When Washington Academy athletic director Blaine Steeves was approached about fielding a track and field team at the East Machias school, he figured a club team of 10 or so athletes would be a good start.
But the numbers have been far greater than Steeves or coaches Gina Gaetani and Peter Deal expected, as 30 boys and girls have been showing up to preseason practices over the last week.
Deal, who works as an intern at the school, expressed interest in starting the team, and when more students began signing up, Gaetani, who teaches physical education at WA, was brought on board.
“We ended up having in the mid-20s sign up and then [when Gina] got involved, we decided to go be a varsity sport,” Steeves said.
Gaetani ran four years of outdoor track and two years of indoor at Edward Little in Auburn.
The Raiders, who will compete in the Penobscot Valley Conference and be classified in Class C, have not fielded a track team since at least the 1940s, Steeves said.
The numbers have been so impressive that Gaetani will unexpectedly have to start turning students away at the end of this week.
“I was surprised that so many kids would come out,” said Gaetani, who graduated from EL in 2005 and St. Joseph’s College in Standish in 2009.
She’s not the only one who’s befuddled.
“It’s encouraging too, because I wasn’t sure where it was going, but when that many kids showed interest, we owed it to them to try to make it a go,” Steeves said.
One of the general ideas for starting the program was to not only attract students who would be interested in track and field, but those who may have been cut from other sports.
“That’s originally how it was sold to me, [to] target these kids that are cut,” said Steeves. “I’m very pleased with it. They’ve been very positive about it.”
From a travel standpoint, the Raiders have a fairly friendly schedule, with their longest trips being for the PVC Championship and Class C state meets, both at Foxcroft Academy.
“Mary Cady has been wonderful,” Steeves said. “When I went to a PVC meeting, I saw a couple of meets [at] MDI, Bucksport and Ellsworth, all fairly centrally located to us and asked if we could join those meets.”
He then followed that up with an e-mail to Cady, the PVC’s head official, and the rest is history.
“We’re excited to provide an opportunity for the kids, that’s my big thing. We’re opening doors for kids,” Steeves said.
Washington Academy will dive into the meat of the PVC right away, with its first meet set April 23 at Cameron Stadium in Bangor, with always-competitive Brewer also on the schedule.
“The kids are really excited to compete with other teams and to kind of see where they stand against everyone,” Gaetani said.
The Raiders don’t have a track facility to practice on, but have used the school’s soccer field for some workouts — such as throwing the discus and javelin — and have gone to nearby beaches so the long and triple jumpers can simulate landing in a pit.
“We have to be creative,” Gaetani said.
That improvisation also has included using a nearby bike path to mark out distances for the sprinters and distance runners.
Most of the Raiders’ equipment, such as starting blocks, has yet to arrive, and Gaetani said the team should have enough uniforms for all the kids.
Among the team members are a majority of international students and some from other sports teams, and for now, Gaetani and Deal are teaching them the basics of track and field, especially those involved in technique events.
“We’re just breaking down the skills for them now. A lot of our students have never heard of the triple jump, so it’s quite the challenge,” Gaetani said. “The kids are great, they’re willing to try all the events.”
Washington Academy will field athletes in all events with the exception of the high jump and pole vault, Gaetani said.
Gaetani, who played field hockey in college while specializing in several events in high school track, has been quick to thank the school’s administration for the opportunity.
“Blaine Steeves has been a great sort of mentor for me, he took me under his wing right off, so I just love that I’m able to coach up here,” said Gaetani.