Belleville girls: On the right track without a track

Photo by Jim Hague/ The Belleville girls’ indoor track and field team recently finished fifth at the NJSIAA North 1, Group III state sectionals, a marvelous achievement considering the school doesn’t have a track to train on. From left are senior Kristy Bono, a twotime medal winner at the recent sectionals, head coach Scott Herman, and Kristy’s twin sister Jamie, who also earned a medal at the sectionals.


From afar, it doesn’t seem like much that the Belleville High School girls’ track and field program finished fifth at the recent NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group III championships at the Bennett Center in Toms River.

However, when you take a closer look, when you consider all the circumstances the Buccaneers have to overcome, all the parameters involved, then it’s quite remarkable that they did that well on the state sectional level.For one, there isn’t a ton of depth in the program, just an assortment of dedicated young ladies who love what they do and have the desire to get better.

More importantly, there’s no place to train. Of course, there’s no indoor track facility in the area, but Belleville doesn’t even have an outdoor track. To train, the girls have to do a lot like the old Doobie Brothers song – They’re taking it to the streets.

“They’re running in the streets and then run to Brookdale Park,” Belleville head coach Scott Herman said. “A lot of times, they take the run over to Branch Brook Park and get their work done there. Even though we don’t have a track, the good weather we had this winter contributed. We have a lot of young girls who are getting better.”
But the Buccaneers were spearheaded by a pair of senior twins, namely Kristy and Jamie Bono, who acted as the catalysts to help bring along a bunch of younger runners.

“Kristy and Jamie are good runners,” Herman said. “They worked hard all summer and that’s how they became good. They put in the time and the mileage. I think they were running like 40-to-50 miles a week. With Kristy and Jamie doing the hard work, they brought the younger girls along.”

Even without the benefit of a running track at the school, the Buccaneers had some good success during the indoor season.

Arnelle Ackon, a junior, had a fine year, culminating in a ninth place finish in the 400-meter run at the state sectional. Ackon won the 55-meter dash and the 300-meter dash at the Ridgewood Indoor Games late in the season, tying the school record in the 300. She also took second in the 300-meter at the Paul Schwartz Invitational. Ackon tied the school record that was set by former state sectional champion Sherece Shabazz four years ago.

Ackon was also fourth at the Super Essex Conference championships in the 55-meter dash.

Freshman Estefany Tello set a new school record in the 600-meter run at the Ridgewood Games.

“Any time you win at a big meet, it helps the confidence level of everyone,” Herman said.

But the heart and soul of the Buccaneers’ efforts were the Bono twins, who both earned medals at the state sectional championships.

Kristy was third in the 1,600-meter run in a time of 5:33.91, with sister Jamie right behind in fourth in 5:35.95.

“It just unfolded that way,” Herman said of the twins running 3-4. “They both improved their times from the week before. They’re both 30 seconds better than what they were a week ago. That’s incredible improvement. Kristy was sixth for most of the race, but then she pulled herself up to third. Jamie is always following right behind her.”

In the 3,200-meter run, Kristy ran third in 11:58.38, with Jamie just missing a chance to move on to the overall Group III championships in that event by finishing seventh.
Both sisters then went to the overall Group III championships Saturday at the Bennett Center, having to arrive at school before the crack of dawn for the sojourn down the Garden State Parkway to the state championships.

Kristy was 14th in the 1,600-meter run, with Jamie 17th overall. Kristy ran 20th in the 3,200-meter run.

It’s nothing to sneeze at, because they were there, competing with the very best in the state, yet neither had a formal track background before high school and don’t have the best training facilities to work on. Scratch that last one. They have none.

“Most of the girls in our program don’t run before high school,” Herman said. “There’s no feeder program and since we don’t have a track, it’s hard to get girls involved. The twins were running like 6:30 miles (1,600-meter run) as freshmen and look where they are now. It’s a gradual progress.”

Herman has to take it slow with the younger girls who are just starting.

“They can’t run as much as Kristy and Jamie,” Herman said. “I don’t want to have them get burned out early. They’re running six months tops right now. But the future looks good, as long as they stay with it.”

Much like the Bono twins stuck with track over their four years.

“We’ll see what the future holds,” Herman said. “A lot of them go on to other sports during outdoor season. It takes a lot of hard work. These kids never get a chance to perform in a home meet ever. Young kids are coming up and they don’t see the kids running track, so they try another sport. We have no feeder program. We have no home meets. Others can’t see the Bono twins run, see them and say, `I’d love to be like them.’ So we need all the recognition we can get, to get some attention with the young kids. Maybe they can see what the Bonos did without having a track, without running before high school. Maybe they can be an inspiration.”

So in that respect, the fifth place finish at the recent state sectionals was almost miraculous and something to behold. Here’s to hoping others in Belleville will stop and take notice of their incredible achievements.

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