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On the far side of the track at the Francis L. Corrigan Sports Complex Friday night, about 30 youths between the ages of 5 and 12 are going through a series of skip drills by Ernest Fennell. The head track and field coach at Central Falls High is sensitive on their age and abilities, but he also knows the importance of the drills. He doesn’t let up in giving his instructions, making sure each one is done right and in an orderly fashion.
After some stretching exercises and the skip drills, Fennell then has the youths run a series of 200-meter repeats. Again, the same routine applies. He keeps a watchful eye on the young runners at the C.F. track, making sure that they are keeping their pace honest and not stopping until they reach the finish line. Often times, he’ll shout words of encouragement with his mega-phone.
For the past six years, the C.F. coach has been occupying most of his summer nights running his youth track & field program and FAST TRACK athletic club. What started out with just his son, Demetrius, and a few of his friends, now has attracted anywhere between 60 and as much as 75 kids in any given year.
Like most coaches, Fennell knows the importance of feeder programs in building a successful high school team. The proof has been evident lately at Central Falls, a school that is now on everyone’s radar whereas before it seemed it was non-existent.
In the past few years, Fennell’s Warriors have won a handful of divisional titles and produced four state champions, including former standouts and multiple all-staters Steven Vazquez (high jump) and Aleide Fernandes (weight events). This past year, junior Erik Mateo won the indoor and outdoor high jump title and graduating senior Tiffany Jenkins captured the outdoor high jump crown.
Fennell’s main goal is to introduce the youths at a young age to the many facets of track & field, making them realize it’s not just about running around a track oval.
“Not everyone can run. Not everyone wants to run,” he said. “When they come here, they realize there are other things they can do in track and field, like the (jumping and throwing) events.”
Fennell’s also tries to stress the importance of the benefits that the sport provides, especially the running aspect.
“Central Falls has always been about soccer and baseball. There is a lot of soccer. The kids play it year round,” he said. “I am trying to get kids to understand that track and field is a foundation for other sports. It’s a fun sport. It also gets them to learn about other things besides running, such as comradeship, competition and working as a team.”
Yesenia Biascochea is one of those athletes that caught the bug through Fennell’s youth program. This past outdoor season she won the JV state title in the hammer with a toss of 125 feet, 4 inches.
She was drawn to the FAST TRACK program by Fennell while attending a practice the summer before her freshman year with her sister, Valerie, a former member of the C.F. track team. With his outgoing personality and contagious smile, Fennell has a knack for recruiting potential athletes. It’s something he often does roaming the halls at the high school where he is a Behavior Specialist.
“He is a self-advocate,” said his son Demetrius. “He really tries to build his team any chance he gets. If he finds a little kid, he’ll always try and recruit them for his track team.”
Fennell’s personality is effective, states Biascochea.
“He can be a little strict at times, but he’s good,” she admits. “He always makes sure that we keep on track.”
Just like he recruits kids to participate in his program, Fennell also does a little recruiting getting his current and former high school athletes to help him out during the summer. Along with his son, a graduate of East Providence where he specialized in the javelin, other athletes that were at his practice on Friday to assist with their expertise were Jenkins, Anjelique Cooley and her twin sister Brianna Cooley.
Anjelique Cooley, who now attends Syracuse University, participated on both the indoor and outdoor track teams. Her senior year, she was second in the state in the triple jump with a distance of 37 feet, ½ inch. She was also fourth in the high jump (5-3) and fifth in the 200 (26.38).
“It feels good (coming back),” she said. “I had always wanted to teach the kids what I learned. I think it’s really important. (At a young age) it’s mostly about having fun, learning to compete and increase their confidence level.”
Brianna Cooley, a Boston College student, also excelled in the jumping and sprint events. She had a best of 35-9 ½ in the triple jump, leaped more than 16 feet in the long jump and was on last year’s school-record 4x100 team that also included her sister and Jenkins.
She pointed out the one big benefit in track and field.
“Most other sports center on height and size,” she said. “In track, you won’t be shut down. It’s open to everyone.”
Fennell, who also gives credit to his assistant at the high school, Brendan Lamboy, for the success of his youth and FAST TRACK programs, is committed during the summer months. For him, it’s a week-long affair. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6-7 p.m., he’s at the Corrigan complex with his C.F. athletes. On Tuesday and Thursday, he’s down at East Providence with another group.
During the weekends and some weekdays, he can be found at an all-comers meet with his team or a sanctioned event. This past Saturday, he brought a group to Fitchburg State in Massachusetts for the New England Junior Olympics.
No surprise, most of his athletes at that meet advanced to the regionals in New York City, July 5-8. The nationals are July 22-28 in Greensboro, N.C.
Fennell appreciates the generosity of Al Cerrone of Attleboro, who supports the athletics programs in Central Falls and his FAST TRACK program. But he also needs additional donations from other businesses and surrounding businesses. Anyone who is interested in supplying such equipment as running shoes or spikes or would like to help fund the team's upcoming trips to New York and North Carolina can contact Fennell at 401-286-8952 or at Fasttrackcfep@gmail.com. Checks can be mailed to FastTrack, P.O. Box 23202, Providence, R.I. 02903.