He jokes that he can't hold a job for long, but Roy Chernock has been doing the same thing professionally for 53 years
coaching track and field
and even at 75, he's not sure whether he wants
to call it quits.
"Looking ahead, the stars of my team are all seniors, so next year
I'm looking to rebuild or retire," the John I. Leonard boys coach
said Wednesday before heading to his team's final practice before today's
regional championships at Dwyer's Blum Stadium. "But I'm stupid, so
I'll probably be back."
Chernock has been coming back to the sport he loves to coach for more
than half a century. His first coaching job was in 1950 at Jamaica High
School in New York. Then came jobs at Oceanside High in Long Island and
college jobs at C.W. Post, Baruch, Princeton and William & Mary, where
he started the women's track program in the late 1970s. He called his
two-year coaching stint at Baruch College in midtown Manhattan the
"longest two years" of his life. "I'm an outdoor person and
it is difficult to be an outdoor person at 23rd Street and Lexington
Avenue in the middle of the largest city in the world," he said.
In 1990, Chernock "retired" and moved to South Florida. He
remembered that while he was coaching at Oceanside High, there was a young
runner in the area named Harry Howell Jr., who later became -- and still
is -- the cross-country and track coach at Cardinal Newman.
So when Chernock arrived in Palm Beach County in March 1990, he called
Howell to see if he knew of any part-time coaching positions open. Howell
picked up Chernock and showed him around Newman, thinking perhaps he might
want to coach there. On the way back to a friend's house where Chernock
was staying, they drove past John I. Leonard. Howell mentioned that he
thought Leonard was looking for a girls track coach. Chernock checked it
out and was hired.
That was 13 years ago. He returned to the school three years ago after
brief coaching stints at Suncoast and Wellington, and last week Leonard's
boys team won its first district championship in recent memory.
Outspoken on various topics
Among the track coaching fraternity in the area, Chernock is known to
speak his mind, and not only on topics involving running and jumping. Five
years ago, Chernock penned a letter to the editor of The Palm Beach
Post in response to two stories -- one about a $70 million gift to
Liberty University from Arthur Williams, the other about the financial
dire straits of athletic departments at area high schools following the
encephalitis scare from mosquitoes in the fall of 1997 that shut down
nighttime sports activities.
Wrote Chernock: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if Mr. Williams or some
other local philanthropist could see his way clear to bail out local
schools rather than send money to other states?"
"We've had our fights, and I usually just walk away," said
coach Rick Rothman, who has coached for 27 years and built Spanish River's
cross-country program into one of the best in the nation. "He's a
good guy, and he does know what he's doing. Somebody once asked me if I
thought I'd coach as long as Roy. I told them I'll be happy if I live
as long as Roy."
Chernock has coached his share of star athletes, including Craig
Masback when he was at Princeton in the mid-1970s. Masback today is the
CEO of USA Track and Field, the governing body of the sport in this
country. Chernock also coached Vin Lananna, the cross-country and track
coach at Stanford, and Jeri Daniels-Elder, the women's track coach at Penn
State, when they were in college. Lananna and Daniels-Elder last September
were named to the coaching staff of the U.S. Olympic track team for the
2004 Athens Games.
There was one incident eight years ago that easily could have forced
Chernock to "retire" again. He had a sometimes stormy
athlete-coach relationship with former two-time Palm Beach Post Runner
of the Year Ramona Saridakis, whose transfer from Leonard to Cardinal
Newman in January 1995 during her junior year sparked allegations of
recruiting by Newman, which six months later was fined a state record
$7,635 by the Florida High School Activities Association. A lawsuit on
behalf of Saridakis was filed against the Palm Beach County School Board
and eventually settled for $25,000.
Surprise district title
The good memories, however, have outweighed the bad ones for Chernock.
When he was in his late 60s, Chernock held Masters sprint records in
the 100 and 200 meters and the 100-meter hurdles. Hip replacement surgery
four years ago, however, ended his competitive running career, which he
said "is a shame because I was looking forward to kicking all those
older guys' butts in my age group."
Two summers ago, Chernock, who claims to be a pretty fair golfer, shot
his age (73) at Addison Reserve in Delray Beach. He said he had a makable
birdie putt on the 18th hole for a round of 72, but as the ball rolled
close to the hole, he almost urged it to not go in. It rimmed out of the
cup and Chernock tapped in for his 73.
Then came last week when the Leonard boys team, led by senior distance
runner Jeremy Miller, surprisingly captured the district title, making
this season the best at Leonard in more than a decade. Should this be
Chernock's last year, it will be one to remember. Don't count on it,
though, says his wife, Ethel.
"It's the best thing for him," she said. "He has to be
with the kids. I hope he never stops."