Mandeville’s Gerald Singer has mentored some stellar athletes in his 40 years as a track coach. So it’s fitting that he has what might be his finest collection of female runners for his final year of coaching.
After finishing third in team scoring at the 2015 LHSAA state track and meet, the Skippers won the District 6-5A meet last week. And heading into Thursday’s Class 5A, Region II meet at Catholic High in Baton Rouge, Mandeville is expecting big things.
Why not? The Skippers return state champions in Chelsey Jones (800 meters) and Claire Crosby (1,600 meters). The team also has Olivia Murphy, who finished second in the 3,200 meters at state last year, and is the defending Class 5A cross country champion.
All are seniors, all were part of the 2015 state champion cross country team, and all are eager to add to their haul of titles.
With that kind of talent in the mix, Singer’s final team at Mandeville High figures to produce some memorable moments at the regional and state meets.
“State-caliber athletes don’t drop into your lap every year,” Singer said. “It took a lifetime to get a team like this.”
He should know.
Singer began coaching in 1976 at his alma mater Brother Martin. He taught in St. Bernard Parish for a few years, before coming to Mandeville in 1986. Since then, the Skippers have produced numerous district champions on the track and had a few runners make all-state squads.
But this team is special, he said. For starters, Jones, who has signed with Nebraska, is undefeated in the 800 the past two years. She holds the state record in the event (2:12:04), and she finished second in the 400 at state last year by only a quarter of a second.
And to top off the bond they share, Singer was coaching at Mandeville when Jones’ parents were track stars there in the late 1980s.
“I’ll still see him plenty,” Jones said of Singer, who remains friends with the entire family.
But one thing Jones won’t see any more is the Mandeville track. Graduation, Singer’s retirement, the prospects of winning the 400 and 800 at regionals and state — there’s a lot going through her mind right now. She said signing with the Cornhuskers makes it easier.
“There’s a lot less pressure now that that’s over, and I have my ACT score,” she said. “Now I can just focus on running well at regionals and state. … It’s been every day for four years out here. And even in junior high, we were out here running. Our whole life is out here.”
Murphy, who has signed to run track and cross country at Southern Illinois, has posted a 3,200-meter time of 11 minutes, 15 seconds this year, 16 seconds faster than her second-place time at state in 2015. She said she’s looking to set another personal best before her time at Mandeville is complete.
She and Crosby will compete in the 1,600- and 3200-meter runs at regionals. The top three in each event qualify for state.
“We all want to do (well) for ourselves, for the team, and for coach Singer,” Murphy said. “It’s the last hurrah for everyone.”
Crosby realizes that, and she said she’s trying to stay focused on the good memories she’s had at Mandeville.
“I think it’s a lot of ‘lasts,’ and it’s all bittersweet,” Crosby said. “These are our last meets, and they are his last meets, too. That puts some pressure on us, I think. So I’m thinking about good things like graduation, the light-hearted stuff. I’m not focusing on the race. I’m just going to run.”
Crosby will run track and cross country collegiately at Kentucky. Her state championship time of 5:08.42 in the mile last year came on the heels of recovering from a stress fracture in lower leg.
She said she feels much better this go-round.
“I feel like I’m in a lot better position than I was last year,” she said.
So does Singer for that matter. The 64-year-old coach will retire from the St. Tammany Parish School System after the school year, but he said track will always be “in the blood.” And if things go well for the Skippers, he could be seeing a few more championships before his own time at Mandeville is complete.
“The cream will have to rise to the top,” he said. “But you build a bond with these kids. I try to treat every one of them fair and equal, no matter their ability. ... And you get close to them. ... I can’t thank (everyone) enough.”