The privilege of competing at the world-class Armory Track and Field Center

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

The bus rattled to the corner of Fort Washington and 168th Street, and the silver foot of Mercury loomed into view through grime-coated windows. We lugged our bags out of the seats, thanked the driver, shuffled through the doors and up the stairs past a dozen jogging teenagers, and settled into our seats perched above the finish line. And looked around.

“The first thing I noticed was the banners for the different [New York City] colleges,” said sophomore Ella Burns, who is new to Pelham Varsity Winter Track and Field and competed in shot put and weight throw in the Section 1 Kickoff meet on Sunday. “I don’t really know why, I just know that it made me realize how real it was and how serious it was.”

The Armory Track and Field Center stands as one of the premier indoor track and field facilities in the U.S. Stretching the length of a block with four floors, the Armory holds a 200-meter, six-lane, raised platform track, two runways and sand pits for long and triple jump, a pole vault pit, and a throwing cage. The center hosts over 100 track and field meets throughout the year at the youth, middle school, high school, collegiate, and professional level.

I have spent the past four winters living anywhere from five to nine hours each weekend between metal folding seats watching hundreds of brightly colored athletes jog warm-ups, pass batons, and break records of schools, leagues, sections, and every once in a while, the nation.

The Armory can be a sensory overload at times – overlapping commentators narrating, “And John Jay pulls into second on the curve,” over, “First call for boy’s 55-meter dash,” clash with blasting pop music, ads for military recruitment, and cheering team mates. Bright fluorescent lights illuminate seven-second races, the heat of a thousand sweating athletes, coaches, and officials radiates through the building, and the energy is palpable.

“It’s a world-class facility,” said Johannes Riehl, senior and captain of the boy’s jumping team. “Everything is standardized, it isn’t a mess of boards at one high school that isn’t officially measured out, all the officials run it efficiently.”

“You get to practice where Olympians practice,” said senior jumper Stephanie Porfirio.

Each year, the Armory hosts the largest international indoor track and field competition in February, the New York Road Runners Millrose Games. In addition, the facility runs the Hispanic Games, the Dr. Sander Invitational and the New Balance National meets.

The Armory is home to the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. Between events, I stare through the glass at the Tennessee State Tigerbelles women’s sprinting jersey my idol, Wilma Rudolph, wore in college before becoming the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field in a single Olympics. 

“Pelham [alumni] that compete collegiately all over the country are told they – wait for it – can use the beautiful Olympic and Hall of Fame facility called the Armory once in their season,” said Pelham’s jumping and throwing coach, Gregory Kopstein. “They always look back at their new coach, smile, and say they’ve been there before, many times.”

For a team from a small public school in lower Westchester, it is an honor and privilege to compete at such an elite facility. During the New Balance Nationals last year, we sat next to a team from Albany who had spent five hours that morning traveling down to run alongside us at the Armory. I sprinted behind girls from California and Ohio. Meanwhile, my team mate called her mother to pick her up from the meet so she would have time to finish her AP English project sitting on her desk at home in Pelham.

Violet Massie-Vereker writes the regular From Where I Stand column and is Opinions & Ideas Editor for the Pelham Examiner.