By Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Tom Shoebridge has been involved with the Lyndhurst High School track and
fieldprogram for longer than anyone can remember, including him. The veteran
coach was a standout athlete at the school and has been the father — and perhaps even grandfather — of theprogram for more than 30 years.
So Shoebridge knows the historical perspective of what it means for the Golden Bears to do well in the annual Jack Yockers Bergen County Relays championships, which were held last weekend at River Dell High School.
“I know we had only won one championship at the county relays,” Shoebridge said. “That was in 1985. Before the race Friday, I told them all that they had a chance to do something that had only been once in the history of the school, that they had a chance to make history themselves. It’s the ultimate team event in track and field and I knew we had a chance to win it going in.”
However, the two days of competition came down to one single event — the 4×400-meter relay. Lyndhurst was tied with Pascack Hills, each team owning 106 points.
“We were going back and forth for two days, for 15 events,” Shoebridge said. “It all came down to the last event.”
It meant a lot to the Golden Bears, because they finished second in the Division C team standings in each of the last two seasons.
But not this time.
In an exciting race, the Golden Bears won the 4×400, with Erik Quesada, Andrew Stajek, Jimmy Gangi and the brilliant Patrick Rono doing the work, coming home in 3:34.0, two seconds ahead of Pascack Hills.
With that, Lyndhurst had accomplished the unthinkable, winning the Division C championship at the Bergen County Relays.
“We knew that Pascack Hills had a great team, so we just tried to stay with them,” Shoebridge said. “We placed in every running event and won the pole vault. It really was a great day.”
The Golden Bears also won the 4×800, with Thiago Fernandes, Anthony Maldonado, David Torres and Danny Gaspar combining to run in 9:03.5. They also won the gold medal in the 4×1,600-meter relay, with Rono, Gaspar, Max Estevez and Fernandes having the honors.
They also earned the gold medal in the sprint medley relay, with Stajek, Quesada, Gangi and Rono combining forces there to break the tape in 3:43.2.
And for good measure, they won the distance medley relay in 11:17.1, with Rono once again, along with Tommy Grimmeyer, Anthony Giaquinto and Fernandes combining for the gold.
The winning pole vault combination comprised of Justin Lim, Mike Morreale and Ian Yunis.
If you’re keeping score at home, you’ll realize that Rono was part of four gold-medal winning relay teams for the Golden Bears. His legacy of greatness just continues to grow and grow with every passing meet, every passing day.
“I think Patrick is the greatest track athlete we’ve ever had,” Shoebridge said. “He’s just been phenomenal. He ran a 4:21 mile on Friday and came back to run a 3:09 in the distance medley and finished it off by running 51 flat in the 400, a race he doesn’t even like doing. There aren’t many who can say they won four gold medals at the county relays.”
Although Rono had a gigantic part in the championship day, this was not a championship won by Rono alone.
“It was absolutely fabulous, especially with the way it played out,” Shoebridge said.
“I told them that they had to live for this moment, because it may never happen again. They all did it. This wasn’t just Patrick. Quesada had a great day, winning two golds and two silvers. Fernandes, Gaspar, Stajek, Gangi, they all had big roles and won multiple medals. It’s a fabulous feeling to have the entire team come
through like this.”
Shoebridge, who has earned a solid reputation for his development of pole vault competitors, was especially pleased with winning the pole vault relay and pointed
out that Lim is set to be the Class of 2011 valedictorian.
“We really have to savor this,” Shoebridge said. “Everyone had a hand in this. It’s the reason why it’s so special.”
But no question, the day belonged to Rono, who earned the Bernard Smith Memorial
Track Most Valuable Runner for his four gold medals and leading the Golden Bears to a slice of history.
“He’s definitely the team leader,” said Shoebridge of Rono, who will graduate from
Lyndhurst in three years and head off to a major college to be determined in the fall. “I told the colleges that they’re getting someone in Patrick who can do it all, like getting four kids for the price of one. He’s that good.”
And his legacy continues to grow and grow. It’s almost totally astounding what Rono has done, from being a two-time place finisher in the NJSIAA Cross Country Meet of Champions to now a four-time gold medal winner at the Bergen County Relays.