Seahawks look to raise money to build track

By Mike McClure

After succeeding in its first two seasons of indoor track and field, Sussex Academy planned to open its inaugural season of spring track and field, then COVID hit. This year the Seahawks competed in their first full season of spring track and field. Despite having only 11 athletes on the girls’ team and not having a track to practice on or host meets at, Sussex Academy won the Henlopen South girls’ title this spring.

Sussex Academy spring track and field head coach Jay Diaz started the indoor track and field three years ago, when his son, Brock, was a senior. After having some success in the winter, Diaz began asking the school about starting an outdoor track and field program with the indoor track and field athletes.

The Seahawks’ Lyla Baker is shown practicing the long jump at the school’s sand pit, located in a field at the school. Photo by Mike McClure

There was some concern about the school having a limited number of athletes to choose from, but eventually Diaz was given the go ahead.

Just as the Seahawks, and many other indoor track and field programs, don’t have an indoor facility to train on, the Sussex Academy outdoor track and field team does not have a full track to train and compete on.

“Everybody just trains where they can train. Nobody has an indoor track,” said Diaz.

Sussex Academy’s Sadie Tunnell earned two third place finishes during the state indoor track and field championships last winter, just the school’s third season of winter track competition.

While the indoor track and field team allowed athletes to cross train and stay in shape for other sports, many of those athletes, and others, came out for the Seahawks’ outdoor team. Unfortunately, last year’s season was cancelled two weeks into the season due to COVID-19. Diaz and the team had high hopes for the season, thanks to some new athletes who came out for the team (in addition to the indoor track and field athletes).

“Runners now have something to do all three seasons at Sussex Academy,” Diaz said. “The thing about track is everybody can play. Big or small, fast or slow, everybody can play on the track team.”

This year’s spring teams had 15 boys and 11 girls. All 11 female athletes contributed to the team’s scoring, especially the big meets, which led to the team winning the division despite competing against larger, more established programs that have their own track.

“They’re doing things they wouldn’t have otherwise done,” said Diaz. “We have some talent.”

Since he is not a teacher at the school, Diaz is not able to recruit athletes at the school, so he accepts anyone and everyone that comes out for the team.

“We take everybody. We’re the Statue of Liberty of sports here,” Diaz said. He added that Athletic Director Steve Bastianelli has been very supportive of the program.

The Seahawks practiced on a 400 meter oval onto a rough field next to the lacrosse team this spring. 

The indoor team trained on the lacrosse field with a 200 meter oval marked out in cones.

“We need a track. Here we are with no place to run, but we’re still able to run with the big dogs,” said Diaz.

Diaz said the current field has enough room for a 400 meter oval, but not a full track.

While the team’s runners practiced on the oval, jumpers ran across pavement and jumped into a makeshift sand pit made in one of the school’s fields. The shot-put and discus competitors threw in a field located away from the rest of the team.

Diaz said the program bought used hurdles and got old high jump pits from a Virginia school. The team’s shot-put and discus equipment and hurdles are kept in a storage shed at the school. Freshman Max Riall even bought his own disc so he could practice at home.

Despite not having the same facilities as competing schools, the Seahawks had several athletes qualify to compete in the state track and field meet this spring. Kenneth “Sunny” Sunnergren qualified for the 100, 200, and triple jump; Kasi Showers qualified for 100 and 300 hurdles; Alissa Swann qualified for the 800; and Trout qualified in the 1,600, 3,200, and 800. Tunnell also qualified for the 200, 400, and high jump and Carly Merise qualified for the 100 and long jump for the boys’ team. The girls’ 4X400 and 4X800 teams were also high seeded in the state meet.

With the season now in the books, the Sussex Academy track and field program is focussing on raising money to building a track. The program has to raise money for the project as the school focusses on its elementary school project. 

Diaz says once the money is raised, the track will be built. “It will take months, not years, to build, once we have the funds,” Diaz said.

The Seahawks’ coach also started the indoor track and field team at his alma mater, Smyrna (1985). He started the program around 1990, now it is one of the best teams in the state. Diaz was also an assistant coach for the Smryna outdoor team, which won the school’s first state title in 1990.

Diaz was joined on the Sussex Academy spring track and field coaching staff by Kathy Van Pelt, a former cross country runner at the school, and Brandon Davis, who coached the shot-put and discus athletes.