Getting cut from baseball was a blessing

By Matthew Shinkle '14

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Going into high school, I wanted desperately to continue playing my favorite sport. I showed up for four weeks of practices, hitting drills and conditioned myself for even longer to get ready for baseball. In the end, I didn’t make the team. I came to Spring Track a day after being cut by the freshmen baseball team. Baseball was without a doubt my favorite sport and is still extremely important to me; however, I simply don’t have the ability to play. I’m tall and lanky, not very muscular, and despite my aspirations and hard work, couldn’t hit a ball pitched to me to save my life.

Coach Tim Campbell welcomed me with open arms to the Spring Track team that year as a distance runner. I knew him fairly well from class as my English teacher, and it was here I realized his expertise in running. I ran Cross Country and Winter Track during my freshmen year, so I already had a base for long distance running. During the season, I ran the 3200 meter race, the longest race of the meet.

About a year went by, and into my sophomore season, Campbell recommended I move over to hurdles instead. Initially, I took this as a sign that I was going nowhere with distance running.  The coach had seen a lack of ability, of endurance, of drive and motivation within me, and wanted me to go elsewhere. In actuality, he had just changed my life. I would soon, after many long practices and workouts, find out I was perfect for hurdling. The constant nudging and pushing he would occasionally say to me, such as “Those long legs would make you a pretty good hurdler, Shinkle,” I finally forced myself to give it a try.

At the same time as I started hurdling, my teammate and friend Justin Demareo, who was also a sophomore, started as well. Tommy Meyer, a freshman, decided to also try hurdles, as he was a sprinter. All three of us started out with Coach Mark Dixon, the head Track coach, learning the basics of hurdling, dealing with lead legs, trail legs, five-step to three-step, etc. Naturally, it started terribly, as I imagine it does with every new hurdler; no one can start and be perfect. The combination of keeping one leg nearly perfectly straight and the other bent into a ‘V’ shape, parallel to the ground is a technique that I still am trying to perfect to this day. Coming out of the start with explosive speed still eludes me as a strong aspect of my technique. As any other sport does, Track takes constant work and perfection.

By the end of my sophomore year, I had gotten a personal record of not even 1:10 in the 400 Intermediate hurdles. As Campbell would tell me two years later, “It took you awhile to get used to your body.” Apparently, I was still getting used to the growth spurt I had under gone a year before.

My junior year featured much more success for me and my teammates. Thanks to the tremendous help of coaches such as Campbell, Dixon and Robinson, I acquired more speed and better form. My personal record in the 400 hurdles became a 1:02, and I even tried the High Hurdles, where my fastest time became a 17.3. At the Haddonfield Invitational near the end of the year, Justin Demareo and I reached the 110 High Hurdle finals, claiming our spots as at least the top eight hurdlers in the conference.

So far this senior year, I have grown incredibly. Past work and potential future success has motivated me to work harder. Former state champion, and current WDHS record holder in the 110 High Hurdles Steve Mitchell, came back to coach. Workouts that include 450 meter sprints with hurdles and other assorted extremely painful runs have improved me and teammates to become the best hurdling squad in the Colonial Conference as myself, Tommy Meyer and Justin Demareo are ranked 2nd, 4th and 5th, respectively. I now hold a PR in the 400 hurdles of a 59.1 and a PR in the 110 High Hurdles of 16.1. Two school records now hold my name, as I am a part of the 3 x 400 hurdle relay team and the shuttle hurdle relay. I’m won countless medals, individually and with others. At the Gloucester County Meet, I placed fourth in the conference.

Thanks to the tremendous coaches at West Deptford High School, many athletes, including myself and my teammates, have experienced extreme success due to their passion to keep our motivation alive and have us become the best we possibly can. Hurdling is not something one can simply do by chance. It takes constant work to ensure your form, technique, and speed is always being improved and not simply staying at the same stagnant place. What many consider as the hardest event in Track and Field, the 400 Intermediate hurdles require the perfect combination of speed and technique to become considered a good hurdler.

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Getting cut from baseball was a blessing