After realizing that both Garret Mountain Reservation and Warinanco Park were unavailable for the NJSIAA sectional cross country championships due to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, Don Danser was faced with a dilemma.
Danser, the NJSIAA’s associate director and the state’s resident guru of cross country and track and field, had to find a practical site to hold the state sectionals, considering the massive tree damage at Garret Mountain in Woodland Park and Warinanco in Elizabeth.
“I was hoping to use Holmdel Park,” Danser said. “But the police in Holmdel told me that there was no chance because Holmdel still didn’t have power.”
Danser said that he was all set to take all four of the state sectionals to the course at Delsea High School, the site of the Central and South Jersey sectionals. Danser was going to hold the Central and South sectionals on Saturday and the North 1 and North 2 sectionals Sunday.
“That was going to be my last ditch resort,” Danser said.
Danser said that he always held onto the hope of holding the sectionals, even when some people in the state were thinking of ending the cross country season at this point.
“There was some talk of that,” Danser said about ending the season altogether. “I couldn’t see the kids wanting to cancel. They’ve all trained so hard and deserve the chance to run. I didn’t want to see that happen. I was just holding my breath and hoping to get through the week, hoping something else would happen.”
Enter Len Pietrewicz. The veteran Randolph girls coach reached out to Danser Monday afternoon.
“When I talked to Don Sunday, he was talking about some park in Ridgewood that I never heard of,” Pietrewicz said. “I asked him about Greystone Park.”
Greystone Park in Morris Plains, the site of former hospital and institution, has been turned into a park in the Morris County Parks system. It has been the site of all of the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference meets, the Greystone Invitational and the Morris County Championships.
“Don said, ‘If you can go get Greystone, then that would be fine,'” Pietrewicz said. “That was this afternoon at 12:30. That’s when I started making calls.”
Pietrewicz called Dave Helmer, the Morris County Parks director, and asked if Greystone could be the site for the state sectionals.
“I explained the situation to Dave and told him we needed a place,” Pietrewicz said. “He told me that he was going to make it happen.”
So after a few phone calls, the NJSIAA North 1 and North 2 sectionals will be held Saturday at Greystone. The North 1 championships will commence at 9 a.m. with the North 2 runners taking to the course at 12:30 p.m. Each race will be separated by 25 minutes to accommodate all of the sections.
The same race pattern will take place at Delsea High School for the Central and South harriers.
Needless to say, this news made Danser a very happy and relieved man.
“We’re very grateful that the people with the Morris County Parks system were able to make this happen,” Danser said. “I also had the understanding of the state’s coaches that this was the best we could do considering the time and the circumstances. Thanks to Lenny, we were able to get this done. It’s a huge sigh of relief.”
The rest of the NJSIAA cross country schedule will remain at Holmdel Park, with the Group championships being held Saturday, Nov. 17 and the NJSIAA Meet of Champions to be run on Wednesday, Nov. 21, with a 2 p.m. starting time for the boys and 2:30 gun for the girls.
Danser said that the move from Saturday, Nov. 24 to the 21st for the M of C was done via a vote with the state’s coaches.
“I put it out there for a vote,” Danser said. “I got 25 who wanted the 21st and only two for the 24th. So that’s how it will be. We’re okay now. We’re up and running.”
Thanks to the diligence of one of the county’s premier coaches, who also organizes the county track website at http://www.mctrack.org.
“The people coming in should realize that it’s not an easy course,” Pietrewicz said. “It’s a very deceptive course. We have some work to do. We have to line the course and make sure there’s enough parking. I think if we get the school buses off the site, we’ll be fine.”
Morris County teams have to be ecstatic, because they’ll now run a course that they’re very familiar with, almost like a home field advantage in other sports.
“I think we’ll all benefit from it,” Pietrewicz said. “I’ve been calling everyone to let them know. We got this done all in an hour. A lot of people came through.”