The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

April 27, 2013

Harold Raker's column on high school track & field: Which way will he go?


Daily Item

---- — Selinsgrove baseball coach Brent Beiler had one of those "wow" moments with his son, Brody, when the latter was in fourth grade.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on one's view point, that moment had nothing at all to do with the sport that the Beilers have shared since Brody could pick up a baseball.

Beiler recalled this week that his son came home from school and told him that, in gym class, he had run a 7-minute mile.

"I thought 'wow, I'm not sure I can do that,'" coach Beiler recalled this week.

So, even at that age, and even if they didn't know it, the writing was on the wall.

In seventh grade, having competed in numerous local running events, and getting his dad, the baseball coach, to run with him, Brody was looking at some tough choices.

"All my life I've always loved to run. In gym class, we would do these physical fitness tests and I would always try to finish top two or top one. I just tried to do my best, and win.

He said, "After that, my gym teacher said 'you should try out for cross-country or track."

So Brody did cross country last fall, choosing that over football, and liked it. "So I knew there was going to be an issue between track and baseball in ninth grade.

"I kept doing cross country and thought 'well, I'll get to (choose between baseball and track) when I get there.' "

With coach Beiler and boys track coach Mark McGuire working together, Brody has been able to enjoy both passions this spring.

But it hasn't been easy.

Often when his junior varsity baseball teammates are finished with practice and heading out for a pizza or to hang out with friends, Brody's work is just getting started.

Depending on the schedule, he will either go to baseball practice and then run between five and eight miles afterward, or he will go to track practice and finish up with some swings in the batting cage.

"It's a lot of late nights, with homework and everything," he said.

A problem, and it is a good one, for the Beilers is that Brody is talented in both sports. He is aiming for the school freshman records held by former standout Vince Fadale in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, but is also a leader of his JV baseball team as the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter.

For now, Brody is comfortable most of the time choosing track over baseball only because he is picking a varsity sport over JV. But, Brody said that if it comes to a choice in the coming years, it might come down to which sport is his best, or favorite.

"Hopefully, I don't have to choose, but over the years, we'll see how it works out and which one...I'm probably better at track, so maybe I will do that," he said, but with much hesitation.

His dad wants him to do what he enjoys, but did note that he is improving immensely in baseball.

"I love watching the meets and I support Brody in whatever he decides. He has to love what he's doing. Right now he's conflicted, but due to the nature of long-distance running I believe he will have to make a decision one way or another."

Coach Beiler added that Brody is just starting to become an impact player on his JV team. "At 128.5 pounds, he is the only member of the JV squad with a home run and has scored the most runs on the team with two double plays and is a leader on the team.

"Brody is not very big; we're hoping that this is just the beginning of his potential, but that remains to be seen. We will have some big decisions to make in the future."

The coach added, "Long-distance running requires a tremendous amount of time and energy and it is definitely his strength. I believe the longer the race, the better he is. So it will be very tough to juggle running and baseball in the future."

Like coaches often like to say, Brent Beiler said his family will just take it one day at a time.

A star (runner) is born

The Beiler family annually participates in the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia on the first Sunday in May. Last year, Brody, an eighth grader, decided to run in the event with minimal training. He had never run more than 7.2 miles. The family expected him to run out of gas long before the finish.

Said Brent, "I opted out of this race and waited eagerly for Brody at the finish. My family and I were completely astonished when he ran past us (at the finishing stretch) at less than 65 minutes. He pumped his fist as he ran by as if to say 'I'm OK' and 'I got this.' I couldn't believe it: 1 hour, 4 minutes and 47 seconds."

Brody placed 473rd overall (out of about 40,000 runners) and third in his age group.

"It was a very proud moment for his mother (Candie) and me," Brent said. "And at that moment, we knew we would have to work something out with baseball and track."

If things do work out, both coaches McGuire and Beiler will enjoy the younger Beiler's talents for three more years.

n Sports editor Harold Raker covers high school track and field. Email comments to hraker@dailyitem.com.