On most days, students and staff at Abington Friends School address issues or watch a short film during morning assembly.
The meeting on April 17 was a bit different.
Track and field coach Kyle Rankin stood in front of the upper school in a packed Muller Auditorium and recognized the four athletes who had not only broken a longstanding Friends Schools League record on April 6 but also won the Big Blue Classic championship six days later.
“I was able to recognize and honor what these guys had accomplished up in New York, and I pulled out the trophy and kids are cheering and I called the four kids up on stage,” Rankin said. "It doesn’t get any better than that. When I can see kids that are smiling and are proud of what they are accomplishing, that’s just the ultimate goal, really.”
The foursome of Sam Shally, Taalib Holloman, and twins Jack and Chase Balick, all seniors, took first place in the 1,600-meter sprint medley relay with a time of 3 minutes, 37.7 seconds at the Big Blue Classic on April 12. The four defeated Monsignor Farrell,, New York’s top-ranked program, in the process. The performance was the best time this year by a team from Pennsylvania, according to MileSplit.
The 1,600 sprint medley includes an 800 leg, a 400 leg, and two 200 legs.
But the record-breaking performance almost didn’t happen.
Rankin had signed the team up months in advance to participate in the 800-meter version of the relay (400 leg, 200 leg, two 100 legs) that Friday. It wasn’t until moments before the meet started that he found out the boys were going to be running in the 1,600.
“I didn’t become aware of that until literally the morning of the event, at 7 o’clock in the morning, when I went online to check out the order of the events," Rankin said. “But there it was, right in front of me. Of course, the kids were terribly disappointed largely because they had been preparing for this event for a long time.
"We were back and forth, like, ‘Do we scratch? Do we not run it? Should we go to a neighborhood track and do a workout instead?' Anyway, we ultimately decided to go ahead and run, and I’m very glad that we did.”
Not to be outdone, at the Central Bucks West Relays last Saturday the team qualified for the New Balance Nationals in the 1,600-meter event.
Rankin, who has been with the program for a little more than three years as coach, has brought the program to its feet since his arrival. Last April, the Kangaroos notched their first win in more than 100 meets in the Friends League, as both the girls’ and boys’ teams beat Westtown School.
For him, though, the challenge coming in was more about getting the team to follow basic protocol rather than worrying about getting to where it is today. Arriving to practice on time, holding Saturday practices, and teaching how to do things such as hand off a baton correctly were all priorities.
“If you’re going to build, you’re going to start with the basic things that may or may not have been done before you," Rankin said. “My wife jokes that I’ve taken a full-time job. Every coach decides how much effort and time they want to put in. I’ve never really understood putting in anything less than 100 percent.”
As for the record-breaking crew of boys, all four were introduced to the sport late or by Rankin’s suggestion.
Jack Balick played soccer, wrestled, and ran outdoor track as a freshman. Rankin then set up a meeting with him and his mother after that first season to discuss what Jack could potentially be in track once he was an upperclassman.
“I tried to impress upon him that he can really be something special by the time he was a junior or senior," Rankin said. "The following fall, he went out for soccer again and he wrestled again as a sophomore. It wasn’t until his junior year that I think the light kind of came on. [Chase Balick] figured it out early on in his junior year.”
Despite his success, Shally is still searching for his best event.
“Sam is a very, very athletic young man,” Rankin said. "He can be good at almost any event, and to a degree, he’s still looking around for perhaps his favorite. The event that he can be the best at. The maturity, the leadership, all three are co-captains deservedly so.”
Holloman joined the team only last spring. The senior was named first-team All-FSL this past season in basketball, finishing third in the league in scoring after putting up 15.4 points per game.
“This is where being in the building is so important," said Rankin, a health and physical education teacher at the school. "As a coach, as a teacher, I’m able to build those relationships with the kids and it begins like, ‘Hey, maybe you should come out for track. Maybe it’ll help you with basketball.' It helps being in front of them every day.”
Besides the reception Rankin and the team received, most of the appreciation has come from parents and those who have been around the program since its dark days.
“I do get notes and comments from parents which are very, very nice," Rankin said. "It lets you know that maybe you’re doing something right.