The tradition of running at Arlington High School dates back decades.
It’s a point of pride for most who pass through the Admirals’ track and field and cross country programs.
Among distance runners especially, Arlington seemingly finds new champions every year. It’s had sectional champions, national participants and All-Americans. It’s had records that stood for dozens of years, and records that get passed down from Admiral to Admiral.
“I’ve had some pretty good kids,” longtime Arlington coach Steve Arnett said, “but I’ve never had a (New York State Federation Cross Country) champ. And here we are with two.”
On Nov. 17, senior Sibby Hanson won the first boys Federation title in Arlington history, completing the 3.1-mile Bowdoin Park course in 16 minutes, 0.7 seconds, and sophomore Bella Burda earned the Admirals’ first girls title.
Her time of 17:56.7 shattered her own program record for the course, set a month earlier, by nearly 30 seconds when she and Hanson swept the Section 1 Class A championships.
“We’ve had pairs in the past that were pretty good,” Arnett said. “But not both in the same instant, at this kind of level.
“Hanson is probably the best guy I’ve every had, and Burda has already exceeded what anyone has ever done in cross country.”
Though Hanson and Burda each sat out the first of two aptly named Section 1 Kickoff meets on Sunday while recuperating from a lengthy cross country season — they may tune up at the Jim Mitchell Invitational this weekend — the duo have every intention of duplicating their feats now that the indoor track and field season has arrived.
For Hanson, his final indoor and outdoor track seasons will culminate a long career that began with a trio of Dutchess County Classic Kids Run titles long before he wore the maroon-and-gold. A state-championships qualifier a year ago, and an All-American as part of the Admirals’ outdoor distance medley relay, he’s already established himself on the track.
Burda’s time in the spotlight is only just beginning. A stress fracture in her left shin suffered during the summer slowed her entire freshman year.
“It started out as a shin splint and I didn’t really communicate well,” Burda said. “I kept running and it got worse and worse.”
And though Arnett said in jest that “she could probably outrun you or I on a broken leg,” he added that the eight weeks she spent sitting on the sidelines had a deep, lasting effect. Even so, she placed second in the 3,000-meter run — her favorite event — in the Section 1 Class A indoor championships, and went to indoor nationals with her distance medley relay team.
Now, after a cross country season in which she set a record of 17:04.38 at the 3.1-mile Saratoga State Park course, and finished 24th on MileSplit.com’s national rankings, Burda and her coach are eager to see what indoor times she can post.
“She might have been an automobile last year, but now she’s a 12-cylinder Ferrari and she’s firing on all cylinders,” Arnett said. “I know she has the background now to show us what she’s fully capable of in winter. Last year I was unsure because she didn’t have the background. This year I’m unsure in a good way, with a smile on my face.”
Burda said she is drawn to the 3,000 for its length. The sophomore professed a love for running itself, and for the atmosphere of training with her teammates everyday, noting senior Delphi Cleaveland.
“We’re definitely going to work together and push each other,” Burda said. “My first goal would be to break 10 minutes in the 3,000. That’s my big goal.”
“It’s astonishing to see how she’s come along,” Hanson said. “Her limits are endless. She’s only a 10th-grader. I can only imagine what she’s going to be doing in two years.”
Hanson, too, has a goal of improving his two-mile time — to under 9 minutes — and has his sights set on preparing for the prestigious Millrose Games in February.
“I want to compete in that and see where I fall,” Hanson said. “Millrose is such a high-quality meet. Running in the mile is a big deal.”
However, it is when talking about relays that the excitement in Hanson’s voice escalates.
He hopes to make All-American at nationals with his relay teammates again. In fact, he said many records his relays broke a year ago were held by teams that included his father, Richard, a 1977 Arlington graduate.
“He was proud,” said Hanson, whose mother, Marisa Sutera Strange, is the 13-time defending D.C. Classic women’s 5K champ. “He was just like, ‘Well, it stood for a pretty long time.’ “
Arnett spoke highly of Hanson’s qualities as a teammate and senior leader.
“He’s a consummate relay runner,” the coach said. “He seems to rise to the challenge. Give him an outside chance (running from behind) on a relay and things usually work out in your favor.
“Not every great athlete matches their great talent with great character, but he’s one of the few.”
For as dominant a tandem as they became in the fall, and for as many goals as they share going forward, neither Burda nor Hanson said the two have discussed the sport at length. Burda has “kind of always done her own thing,” Hanson said, and he does his.
Still, in this individual sport of running, Arnett said his pair of distance runners, together carrying on the Arlington tradition, provides something for his team he cannot quite define.
“There’s something about having two — a guy and a girl — two athletes who, in spite of the fact that they’re not brash, not in-your-face type of athletes — there’s an understanding that, when they get on the starting line, they’re not going to give a quarter,” he said. “There’s something about the other kids knowing that, that I think they take pride in.
“It does something for the program that is very special and comes along once in a lifetime, and I’m enjoying every bit of it.”