Prose & Comments: One of the Island’s finest athletes — ever

COURTESY PHOTO Kal Lewis on his way to breaking the all-time fresman cross country record at the Sunken Meadow course in September.
Kal Lewis on his way to breaking the all-time fresman cross country record at the Sunken Meadow course in September.

I have been reflecting on Kal Lewis, a sophomore at Shelter Island High School, who twice this spring ran 4:15 for 1,600 meters and then won the New York State D-2 1,600 meter title.

Kal has taken 24 seconds off the previous school record  of 4:39.6 set by Ian Thomson 20 years ago —five years before Kal was born. His 4:15 is the single greatest track run ever by a Shelter Island runner.

The only performance anywhere near Kal’s 4:15 is Janelle Kraus’s 10:03 for 3,000 meters in her senior year. Janelle also happens to be Shelter Island’s only other State Champion, having won the C/D cross country title, also in her senior year.

New York Interscholastic Track & Field is divided into only two categories, D-1 for high schools over 600 enrollment and D-2 for schools with less than 600 students. Shelter Island has about 70 high school students.

Kal is the best 1,600 meter runner from the entire state among schools with under 600 enrollment. He is also ranked as one of the top runners in the D-1 category. Hundreds of high school boys race the 1,600 each year.

Moreover, Shelter Island runners do not have an official track on which to train in order to fine tune their speed, pacing and running form. Our athletes train on grass fields, town roads and a non-standard black top loop on the school grounds.

All the performances our remarkable Shelter Island boys and girls on the track team achieve have been accomplished under adverse conditions, to say the least.

Though their facilities are not the best, what they have going for them are great attitudes, excellent coaching, supportive parents and a strong community backing.

Those qualities will overcome facilities every time — and they have.

I have often been asked how good I think Kal can get. There is no way to accurately predict that. It is basically up to Kal. Janelle took what she started at Shelter Island and went on to win nine Atlantic Coast Conference Titles, earn four All American rankings at Wake Forrest and compete in the marathon at the 2012 Olympic Trials.

Kal is being very well coached by Toby Green. He has all the right stuff to keep going.

He is obviously very talented, but the most important quality that predicts an exciting future is that he rises to the level of competition and performs his best at the biggest races. That is priceless.

A 4:15 time by a high school sophomore is very rare — almost unheard of. I doubt there are 10 sophomores in the entire nation who have run that fast and some of those are older than their classmates. In over 40 years of coaching, I never had a runner run close to that time as a sophomore.

Kal has established a new standard of excellence in boys track at Shelter Island. Others on the team, and youngsters coming up, will see what he is doing and will believe they can do it too. They will work hard to be like Kal and their performances will improve because of that.

I thought I would share these tidbits to congratulate Kal and let those who are not as familiar with the sport have some perspective of just how excellent his times are.

When you see this tall, blond guy running along the roads this summer, know that you are watching an exceptional athlete trying to get even better. Give him and his teammates some encouragement.

Cliff Clark is considered one of Long Island’s finest track and cross country coaches and is a tireless advocate for running programs on Shelter Island.