By: Ellis Simon
Dec. 6, 2018
December 1 marked an important milestone for the athletic program at College of Staten Island.
For the first time in the school’s history, it fielded a team in a Division III track and field event, the Springfield College Invitational.
You could say that CSI is off to the races, pun intended. This year, the Dolphins will have men’s and women’s teams competing in indoor and outdoor track and field, and they have high expectations for making their mark in the CUNY Athletic Conference and NCAA Division III.
Ever since Charles Gomes became CSI’s athletic director six years ago, he wanted the school to compete in track and field. However, due to budgetary constraints, it took time to assemble the resources he needed to not only hire a coach, but pay for uniforms, equipment, travel, entry fees, etc.
“There are a lot of things people don’t consider when starting a new sport,” he said. “We don’t want to start anything we can’t complete.”
Gomes not only needed to assemble resources, he had to find the right coach; someone with passion and the willingness to overcome obstacles. His search committee found that in Jason McFall, who was the Athletic Director and a physical education teacher at the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem and an assistant girls’ basketball coach with Bread and Roses High School.
McFall said the opportunity to coach at CSI intrigued him because he knew the college had a good reputation for athletics and Staten Island has a good running community. “If we could field a good program, between us and Wagner College, we’d have a good shot in bringing in some good runners,” he said.
McFall arrived in January 2018 and became coach of CSI’s club team for the spring semester. He took them to several high-level events, where they competed as a club against Division I and Division III schools.
He explained that the club season provided an opportunity to vet athletes to see who could compete on an intercollegiate team. “When you move from having a club team to a competitive team, people realize where they lie,” he added.
“It’s a great opportunity to compete at the next level,” said Liam McMunn, a senior who was a member of the club team. “This is a great opportunity to show people how we’re expanding our program from a club to an actual varsity team.”
This fall, McFall coached CSI’s cross country teams and helped the women move up from seventh place to third in CUNYAC competition. The men, who did not compete in 2017, finished fifth.
Recruiting can be challenging for a start-up team. McFall tells athletes who he wants to bring to CSI that “instead of following in someone’s footsteps, you can blaze your own trail. When you come to a new program, you’ll be the person to beat until your mark is broken.”
He also urges prospects to come to visit the campus to see CSI’s athletic facilities, which are among CUNY’s best. The campus and the athletic facilities were among the factors that influenced his decision to come to Staten Island, he admitted. “I fell in love with the campus from the time I walked in from Victory Boulevard.”
Some of his recruits also came to CSI because of its 204-acre campus, the largest in CUNY. “I wanted a college campus experience while still being close to the city,” said Deavion Brown, a sprinter from the Bronx who also ran cross country this past season.
Brown also made waves in her first collegiate meet at Springfield, racing to a winning time of 7.98 in the 60-meter dash. That mark currently ties her for 11th amongst all NCAA Division III sprinters.
McFall has high expectations for the Dolphins' debut season. “You have to set the bar as high as possible,” he explained. “I don’t want to say where we will finish, but we will turn a lot of people’s heads.”
Not surprisingly, the first teams have a high proportion of freshmen. Besides Brown, CSI’s top contenders include Spencer Milito, a distance runner from West Babylon, N.Y., who was named the CUNY Rookie of the Week in cross country five times this season and Jaron Thompson, a middle-distance runner from Queens who has exceeded the coaching staff’s expectations.
CSI recruits from both on and off Staten Island. “Good athletes want to come here,” said Gomes. “Jason is a big part of that. We’re off to a good start and hopefully we’ll build on it.”