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Clippers, Novans chase Hendricken track dynasty

March 26, 2011

Cumberland High's Jack Covino works on his weight throw form during Friday's practice session.

The hockey season concluded less than a week ago and to no one's surprise it was Mount St. Charles that was celebrating on the ice with another state championship. Except for a four-year dry spell from 2003-07, that's the way it has been since the 1977-78 season for the Mounties, who have racked up 42 state titles in their storied history.
In boys' swimming, Bishop Hendricken has won every team title since 1989-90, a total of 22 straight crowns.
With the outdoor track season officially kicking off on April 2 with the annual Knights of Columbus Relays, longtime boys' coaches Tom Kenwood of Cumberland and George Briggs of Woonsocket don't have to be Nostradamus to predict what team will more than likely hoist the championship plaque in June.
It's the same team that's won the title 11 of the last 13 years, the Hawks of Hendricken.
Let the debates continue about the private versus public school inequality that so many argue about each and every year. In the case with track, Briggs and Kenwood have resigned to the fact that winning a state title in track with its multiple events is a near impossible task when facing the likes of the Hawks, who often field squads more than double their closest competitor.
“Hendricken is the benchmark,” Briggs admitted. “They are coming at you with 225 athletes and six coaches. But in all honesty, I like going against them. If you want to have some great athletes in the state, you have to compete with the Hendricken athletes.”
“Rarely are there any public school teams that will contend for a state title, usually it's a private school,” said Kenwood, while also pointing out about La Salle Academy's dominance in girls' track. “That's why you set other goals, liking doing well in the division and, of course, the satisfaction of your athletes doing well individually.”
The two local coaches agree that it's not the fault of private schools like Hendricken or Mount St. Charles for their dominance in their respective sports. That's just the way it is when you have programs that have the funds and resources to be successful.
“They have some very good coaches,” Kenwood points out. “But they basically have a coach for every group of competitors on the track team. They have some outstanding coaching to cover all the areas. Right now I have an assistant coach Chris Skurka, who is a very good weight coach but he's all by himself and he has 30 throwers, boys and girls combined. It's difficult.”
“My hats off to Jim Doyle,” said Briggs, about the Hawks' running coach, who also earned success at St. Raphael Academy in the 1990s. “He has done an outstanding job with the numbers that he has and they just keeping coming.”
Besides the quality of coaching, private institutions also have the luxury of having high-level athletes gravitating to their schools. If an athlete has the skills to excel in hockey and their parents can afford the tuition of Mount St. Charles, usually that’s where they’ll end up because of their reputation and attractiveness to top colleges. The same could be said for Hendricken and its talented track program.
Again, Kenwood and Briggs don’t blame schools like Hendricken for that happening.
“It is a distinct disadvantage competing against a private school,” Briggs said, “but success breeds success.”
Hendricken has not lost an indoor title since the 1993-94 season when Doyle's St. Ray's squad took the crown. In outdoor track, two teams have managed to sneak their way in during the last 13 years with North Kingstown taking it all in 2007 with a narrow 80-77 upset win over the Hawks and then Westerly earning the plaque two years ago with a 69-50 victory over runner-up Mount Pleasant. Hendricken was third with 48.
Westerly's championship was bolstered heavily by the four wins attained by multiple state-record holder and one of the nation's best distance runners Andrew Springer, who captured the 3,000-, 1,500- and 800-meter runs and also ran a leg on the Bulldogs winning 4x800 relay squad.
Briggs admits that either you have to have some serious numbers of athletes on your team to win at the class or state level or athletes like Springer that can rack up 30 to 40 points all by themselves.
“If you don't it's like men competing against boys,” he said. “Every so often you can get one of those athletes that can make a difference.”
One of those athletes that Briggs points out is Hope junior Royal Cheatham, who won three individual events (55, 300, long jump) and also ran the leadoff leg for the winning 4x200 relay squad for the Blue Wave, a runner-up to five-time titlist La Salle at the indoor state meet this past February.
Cumberland, which last won a state cross-country title in 2004, copped an indoor title, too. But that came back in the winter of 1978. Two years later, Woonsocket also claimed a crown on the indoor surface. Since their wins at the old Cranston Street Armory in Providence, it has essentially been the Hawks that have dominated.
“Our meet was a close meet,” Briggs said. '”It was nice beating them. They certainly didn't have the numbers. It was a relatively small team.”
Kenwood sensed Hendricken would turn into a strong program shortly after his Clippers copped their indoor title. In succession, the Hawks won their first five cross-country titles from 1987-82.
“You could see the handwriting on the wall,” Kenwood said. “They had a very strong cross-country program and they just seemed to be getting stronger and stronger.”
Cumberland and Woonsocket should once again be among the top squads battling for the Northern Division Championships in May. The Clippers have won the last nine crowns.
“Our division, as always, is going to be tough,” Kenwood said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”
Cumberland lost a few quality athletes to graduation from last year’s team, including standout sprinters Brandon Aikens and Justin Gaudette. But the Clippers do have some strong athletes this spring that should lead the way by scoring a considerable amount of points. Junior Ryan Rei (sprints, high jump, long jump), junior Ryan Dube (pole vault) and sophomore Trevor Crawley (distance events) are among that crew.
Woonsocket has its strength in the sprints, jumps and weight events, but is short on distance runners. Football stars Jessie Charette (jumps, sprints) and Jalen Evans (sprints) are two athletes that should make some noise.

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