They say tradition never graduates.
The late and legendary Irvington track coach Peter Oley had a vision and a dream. He wanted Irvington to develop top-notch cross-country and track and field teams.
Oley, a local pioneer, eventually built the school into one of the New York State's most potent breeding grounds for runners.
A member of the New York State track and field Hall of Fame, Oley is synonymous with Irvington's state record 138-plus straight dual meet victories. During his 40-plus years at Irvington, Oley established a system in which he recruited athletes throughout the school and implored them to try particular events in track and field.
The seeds for a perennial power began to take root as Oley converted workaday athletes into superstars.
Oley was known for his kind heart. Beyond his ability to assess the talent of athletes and set attainable goals for them, Oley was recognized for his motivational maxims and traditions.
One of Oley's most important traditions was to gear his runners up for the rigorous cross-country courses through the annual Green Mountain Running Camp in Vermont. Oley served as a staff coach at the camp from the early 1980s until his retirement.
"I think Irvington's participation in the camp dates back to the early 80s," said varsity cross-country coach Chris Barry, who will trek to the backcountry dirt roads, meadows, and monstrous hills this week.
"It's an amazing experience on a lot of levels. Just for running alone, it's beautiful. The other thing is there are a lot of great coaches there. There's a lot of guest speakers, some of them are quite inspirational. There are fun activities, it's a very well-oiled machine. They know what they're doing up there."
For Barry, the experience is geared to help his team jell as a functional cross-country unit. He wants the members to build a close-knit core, a surrogate family that's constantly pushing each other. Solving the team chemistry experiment was the plan when Oley first started to send teams to Green Mountain Running Camp. The goal remains the same.
"For me, the most important thing is they get to bond together as a team," explained Barry. Both the boys team and the girls team, they make a lot of friends. For the rest of the season, they run into people from other teams who were their camp mates. It's a nice thing to see as you go from meet to meet."
For runners, the sun-soaked mountains of the "Northeast Kingdom" for runners is a unique experience. It's a tree-dotted, serene environment. The camp, however, is by no means a vacation.
"Every run, you're going to hit some hills," said Barry. "So, it's good work on your strength. That's a big part of it physically. Obviously, you're going to be doing a lot of mileage. To go to camp you should have prepared for weeks because you just can't go there having not run or trained properly. I've had kids do that and that doesn't work. So, the hope is that the training beforehand allows you to go up there very fit. You want to come out strengthened, being able to hone your skill with those in your age group and beyond."
Green Mountain Running Camp is known to take care of its athletes. They provide first-rate training and help athletes recover with ice baths and protein drinks.
The camp's instructors and coaches provide college-level stretching routines. The campers are encouraged to safely jump into the mountain streams to cool off after a hard day's run.
Barry said it will be a rebuilding year for his tough Irvington girls team. The Bulldogs lost a slew of talented seniors, headlined by former Section 1 standout Annie Field. The Oberlin College-bound Field set a new Irvington course record in 2010, earned the individual league championship, and set the pace both figuratively and literally.
An influx of young talent, some of whom are getting started on the varsity as middle school students, should help cushion the loss of a high-quality senior class.
On the boys side, Irvington will follow the lead of Tom Lindberg. Lindberg is an enticing speed demon who showed promise during the spring track season. Lindberg clocked a smoking 4:21 mile and has adjusted to the longer mileage of the 5K.
Lindberg was nicked up last season and is looking to make up for some lost time this fall. The Green Mountain Running Camp will provide him with the augmented strength he'll need for some of those monster courses of the regular season.
"I lost my top four runners (on the girls team), so we are going to have to be a little bit more rebuilding, if you will," explained Barry.
"We have a lot of young talent coming in with some good credentials. We've got a couple of rising sophomores that are going to help us. We've got two seniors that have been in the program for four years now and are really going to lead. It might not be the same as last year but I feel like we're going to be better than a people may think or expect. We have a number of runners who are going to serve us well over the years if they develop and mature."
Lindberg enters the 2011 campaign with lofty expectations heaped on him.
"Last year, Tom lost two weeks of training in October," Barry said. "I think this year, we keep him healthy, he's no question going to be the leader. I'm pushing him to actually separate from the other guys and shoot for a state berth."
Though students do, tradition never graduates, and the Bulldogs will continue what the legendary coach Oley started.
For more information on Green Mountain Running Camp, please contact director John Holland at 914-962-5238.