School desk

Back from the races


Jasper track athletes giggled from the back rows of a Hayes Hall auditorium as Aliann Pompey, a 1999 Manhattan College alumna, and Joe Ryan, the second-longest Jaspers coach, rehashed their two and a half decades together during the Sept. 17 lecture of Manhattan College’s week-long Olympic talk series.

Ms. Pompey, a four time Olympian who competed in the London Games, and Mr. Ryan, the Jasper’s assistant track coach who helped her get there, reenacted a pre-race ritual that brought the coach-trainee team from the Manhattan College campus to Olympic villages across the globe.

Dozens of students attending a Sept. 17 talk heard Ms. Pompey describe decades of avoiding her coach’s “touch of death” before race warm-ups. 

While Ms. Pompey said she prefers silence and meditation before the shotgun, she described how Mr. Ryan would pace in front of track with coffee in hand, nervously spewing out words of encouragement and trying to sneak in pats on her back.

“If he touches you it’s the weirdest thing because it’s like all of his weight goes to his hand,” she said, while thrusting her hip on stage and stimulating her latest dodge at the London Games.

“I did a matrix move to get away from his hand … My friend, she was like, ‘What was that little dance move back there?’ I said, ‘Listen if that man touches you before you run, it’s like the touch of death.’”

Cullen Jones, the second African-American to win a gold medal in swimming, kicked off the lectures, followed by Nastia Liukin, a five-time gymnastics medalist. Also on the roster were, Lindy Remigino, who won the gold medal in the 100-meter dash during his junior at Manhattan College and Amanda Beard, a seven-time Olympic swimming medalist. 

Though runners saturated the audience, a handful of other Jaspers came to hear how things have changed since Mr. Ryan’s and Ms. Pompey’s first encounter, when Ms. Pompey enrolled in college in 1996.

Ms. Pompey said when her father introduced her to the two Jasper coaches; Mr. Ryan gasped at her 90-pound frame and said, “Oh my God, we have so much work to do with you.” 

Mr. Ryan, who competed for the National Irish Team while attending Manhattan College, said the coaches knew they had to work past a few issues with her, but that he realized she was “a real athlete” after she tanked a 400-meter race during her sophomore year, but responded well to a post-run lecture. He became even more optimistic when she won the NCAA in 2000, during her senior year.

“It was amazing the crowd was on their feet going absolutely bananas. God knows what I was doing. I think I was on TV with my hands going like this,” Mr. Ryan said while flapping his arms around wildly. “Right then and there, I said, ‘This can go beyond this because once you’re a NCAA champion, I think you’re world class.’”

Mr. Ryan, who coached the Guyanese Olympic team during the past two games, described the Olympic Village as swarming with “gang warfare.” Everyone is decked out in their countries’ colors and draping flags over buildings, windows and bleachers to mark their territory, he said.

However, Ms. Pompey said she thought of her competitors as friends after years of watching each other struggle to get to the Olympic Games. By the time she made it to London, she said, she wasn’t star struck by track giants like Usain Bolt.

“I was just hoping to hold it together, going through like 20 different strategies in my head --— should I try something new; should I just go with what I’ve been doing all year; what should I do now?” she said. “I decided to trust my finish a little bit more and not go out as hard as I did in that first round … It was a great experience. I absolutely wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

She has since retired from professional racing. Ms. Pompey, who runs a college prep program for high school track athletes at the Armory Foundation, said she’s not sure she’s cut out for coaching. But she’s interested in coaching her native Guyana as it amps up its Olympic team.

“We can be Jamaica. Why not? Everything they have, we have. Let me tell you we have yams, we have bananas,” she said. “It gives people a lot more options, especially with the world economy the way it is… I think sport has always been an excellent lubricator for the economy.”

Ashley Bowman, a senior on the track team, said she came to the talk to support her coach and Ms. Pompey, who still sometimes stops by campus to train. Though she didn’t hear the “crazy” Olympic stories she was hoping for, she said she was “thrilled” to take home the autographed photo of Cullen Jones she won for asking the first question.

Gabriel Quiroz, a junior, said he wasn’t a runner, but was intrigued by the talk because the Olympics’ global span was something everyone revered.

“It’s not every day you get to meet an Olympian,” he said. “You totally learn something different. You see it live on the television, but you get to hear about it firsthand. And it’s inspiring to hear people share how far they’ve gone.”


Mashel named superintendent


The Department of Education officially named Robert J. Christen, PS 81 Principal Melodie Mashel the interim acting superintendent for District 10 schools at the Sept. 20 Community Education Council meeting.

Ms. Mashel will begin as the superintendent on Monday, Oct. 1. As superintendent, she will appoint principals, rate administrators, approve tenure decisions and school budgets and work with parents’ associations across the district.


RKA middle school tours


The David A. Stein Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, MS/HS 141, invites parents of fifth graders to tour its middle school and explore whether the school would be a good fit for their students next year. 

RKA will host tours every Friday at 8:30 a.m. from Oct. 12 through Dec. 14. There will be no tour on Nov. 23. 

Parents interested in touring RKA should register with the parent coordinator Julie Prince by emailing her at

RKA is a zoned middle school.


Internet protection meeting


The New Visions for Public Schools, which runs the New Visions Charter High School for Humanities and the New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science on the John F. Kennedy campus, will hold a public hearing on internet protection for children on Thursday, Oct. 4, from 9 to 10 a.m. The meeting will be held on the Kennedy Campus, which is located at 99 Terrace View Avenue.