The most successful public high school sports program in Rhode Island in the last decade sends its athletes all over town to practice and play.
The championship tennis team hits at a middle school. The indoor track team runs outdoors. The gymnastics team practices at a club near the train station. The hockey and swim teams train at nearby university facilities.
Despite those challenges, South Kingstown produced 54 division, class or state championships from the fall of 2000 to the spring of 2010, more than any other public high school in the state.
Barrington was second with 52 titles.
“Pretty awesome! I never even considered that,” exclaimed Terry Lynch, the current athletics director who three years ago succeeded Bob Cavanagh, the long-time A.D. and boys soccer coach who laid the foundation for such success.
Forty public schools won at least one championship during the decade. Boys led the championship charge at 19 schools, girls at 18. Girls and boys tied at three schools. Davies Career and Technical was the only public-school program without a championship.
Among parochial and private schools, La Salle led with 92 championships. Girls earned 71 titles, 27 in track and cross-country. Boys won 21. Bishop Hendricken boys won 81 championships, 45 in track and cross-country.
South Kingstown girls won 28 titles in seven sports during the 2000s. Indoor and outdoor track athletes accounted for 15 championships, three of them state titles. The swim team won five consecutive Class B championships.
SK boys took home 26 championships in nine sports. The tennis team won 10 consecutive state titles, the swim team five straight Class B or Division II crowns.
“It all comes down to coaches, and we have two huge programs in girls track and boys tennis,” Lynch said.
Joyce Harvey started the track program and retired last spring after 37 years.
“Talk about someone who is passionate and into it and puts kids first. It’s infectious. Let’s face it, not a lot of people are beating down the door to run every day,” he said.
Andy Carr has built a tennis dynasty with 12 consecutive state titles, starting in 1999.
“What are you going to say about Andy? He’s the best. He knows how to get kids ready for the finals.”
Lynch also praised the former swim coach Ernie Hulme, who retired shortly after Lynch became A.D., and his successor, Christine Hague. “It’s not an easy sport to coach. We practice at odd times, any time between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., at URI,” he said.
Only basketball and volleyball players and wrestlers have the luxury of competing at the high school gym on Columbia Street in Wakefield. Some athletes can practice next door at Hazard Field, thanks to the generosity of the Hazard family, but most board buses to practice and play at Old Mountain Field on Kingstown Road or fields at Broad Rock or Curtis Corner Middle Schools. The golf team calls Laurel Lane in West Kingston its home course, and gymnasts work out at coach Sue Paul’s New Generation Gymnastics Academy in West Kingston. The hockey team skates at URI.
Lynch estimates that 45 percent of South Kingstown High’s 1,150 students play a sport.
“It’s a big commitment, and our kids are awesome. They’re into it. Athletics are still very important,” he said.
Lacrosse, the most recent addition to the SK lineup, is popular with 40 boys and 40 girls playing.
Lynch appreciates the support he and his athletes receive from the town. Supt. Kristen Stringfellow and principal Bob McCarthy are strong boosters of sports. McCarthy also sits on the Rhode Island Interscholastic League’s Principal’s Committee on Athletics and is director of girls soccer. Rex Eberly, parks superintendent for the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, keeps the fields in good shape.
“We work hand in hand with him. There are a lot of moving parts,” Lynch said. The high school owns no fields but its teams have priority at the town fields during the school year.
That support has continued even though the school population has dropped from about 1,300 when Lynch arrived as assistant principal in 2003.
In Barrington, the girls won 30 championships in nine sports in the last decade. Lacrosse led the way with nine titles in 10 years, missing only in 2008. Cross-country won six Class B titles, four in a row from 2007 to 2010.
The Barrington boys won 22 championships in eight sports. The golf team, with Rhode Island Country Club as its home course, won eight titles. The football team won four championships, three in Division I.
“It’s all about the kids,” the athletics director George Finn said, “and we have had the coaches.” He mentioned that Bill McCagney has led the football team for 20 years, Stephen Lenz has coached the girls basketball team for a dozen years, and Dick Ernst has run the boys tennis team for eight years. Lee-Ann Markowski has coached field hockey for well over a decade and won three state championships in the 2000s. Don Denham brought his college coaching experience to the boys soccer team and won a state title in 2008, his first year.
Playing fields are just outside the doors of Barrington High School and are visible to motorists driving on Route 114 by the landmark white Congregational Church. There are diamonds for baseball and softball and fields for lacrosse and field hockey. An all-weather track encloses the football field, which has a generous grandstand and lights. The six-court tennis complex is across from the main entrance to the school on Lincoln Avenue. Only the hockey team has to travel regularly to rinks from North Smithfield to Portsmouth.
Facilities have been upgraded in recent years. The tennis courts were renovated with proceeds of a town bond. The track was rebuilt in 2003 and re-surfaced in 2010. The baseball and softball infields were stripped and regarded about five years ago.
“You have to maintain the facilities,” Finn said. He has been director of athletics and activities for the high school and middle school for 12 years.
Like Lynch in South Kingstown, Finn is grateful for administration and community support, starting with Supt. Robert McIntyre and the principal Joe Hurley. John Renquinha and his staff in the Department of Public Works maintain the grounds. Booster clubs have raised money for championship plaques and jackets and paid for the bleachers at the tennis courts.
“I can go around to every facility and see what they’ve touched,” he said.
In addition, strong youth programs exist in soccer, baseball and lacrosse. Finn started the middle school wrestling program and switched the freshman field hockey program to the middle school because there were no other freshman teams to play and “to get sticks in the girls hands. . . . It starts before high school. These kids come in with playing experience. Very few kids come in without having played.”
Barrington High has 1,100 students, and 55 percent participate in sports.
“One of the things I’m proud of is we are a school that offers a lot of different opportunities, not just athletics. We have 27 varsity sports and 46 teams. We have 45 clubs and student activities. There’s a lot of opportunity for kids to find a niche to be successful,” Finn said.