IN NEW JERSEY?
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
In South Orange, New Jersey?
We’re not kidding you, folks. Not at all. Coulda-shoulda-woulda-well-maybe happened. Call it one of the biggest sports stories in New Jersey history – and the State of New Jersey, for sure, has had a lot more than its fair share of big sports stories over the years – that might have happened….but never did.
If only Seton Hall University in South Orange, alma mater of Kevin Lyles and Keisha Caine – and a huge number of other sensational track and field people for nearly a century – had not made the brutal decision to disband its men’s and women’s varsity track and field programs back in 2010 (to be replaced by a sub-varsity club team.).
It was brutal because track and field had always been the most successful sport in Seton Hall’s history. Yes, it is more successful than its beloved men’s basketball teams.
Noah Lyles, winner, 100m, World Athletics Championships
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris
It was brutal because the explanation – designed to help Seton Hall “maximize its financial resources” – told only part of the story.
But brutal it was – (oh, keeping a token varsity XC team), and there have been loud reverberations ever since.
Backtrack now to the 1995 season.
Kevin Lyles, out of New Jersey’s Franklin High School, was one brilliant quarter-miler, a 45.01 man, And the most decorated runner in Big East history. And World Championships 4×400 relay gold medalist (as an opening-round team member.) And a solid candidate for the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Didn’t happen, however. He bowed out early in the Trials.
Keisha Caine, meanwhile, was running brilliantly for the Seton Hall women’s team. She was a two-time NCAA 4×400 gold medalist and nine-time Big East champion. And Mr. Lyles and Ms./ Caine were dating – and, soon enough, getting quite serious.
The 1995 story I wrote on SHU Hall of Fame coach John Moon turned positively portentious. “If and when they get married,” he said, “their children are probably going to be very fast people.” (They’d divorced in 2008.).
Well, that 1995 quote – one of my all-time favorites – has proved to be a vast understatement. It’s 2023, and Noah Lyles is recognized as the very fastest man on this planet.
Noah Lyles, World Athletics Championships
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris
If you don’t know by now, Noah Lyles has just won his third gold medal of the World Championships of Track and Field – the 100, the 200, the 4×100 relay in Budapest – and is the hottest thing to hit his sport since Usain Bolt – well, you’ve probably been on sabbatical on Mars.
Brother Josephus is just a step or two behind Noah on all the charts and will surely be a hot candidate for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Back now to the Seton Hall campus. Might Noah and Josephus, both after brilliant days at TC Williams High School (now Alexandria City HS) in Virginia, have been enticed into attending their parents’ alma mater if only Seton Hall had a varsity track and field team?
Coach Moon – one of the all-time greats of the coaching profession who has guided 19 of his Pirates to the Olympic Games, coached 71 All-Americans, and a long parade of Big East, ECAC, IC4A, and Penn Relays titlists – only goes wistful when the topic arises.
Of course, it was only a dream, a possibility, a long-shot vision that would never come true.
We’ve known for a while that Noah and Josephus Lyles are not going to be Seton Hall Pirates.
The Hall’s first Olympian was steeplechaser Mel Dalton in 1928.
Andy Stanfield sprinted to double (200, 4×100) gold at Helsinki in 1952 and added an individual 200 silver at Melbourne1956.
Noah Lyles and Coach Lance Braumann,
USATF New York Grand Prix
Continental Tour Gold
presented by Global Athletics & Marketing Inc., photo by Kevin Morris
Andrew Valmon is often considered the finest 4×400 leadoff man in track history. He snared relay golds at Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992, and he’s still in the books as the 4×400 world-record team leadoff. Oh, and he was USA men’s Olympic head coach at London 2012 (first gold medalist to have that huge honor) and now leads the U. of Maryland Terrapins.
Seton Hall’s own Prep School annually fields a power-packed scholastic track lineup. Evon Seton Hill University – no, that’s not a typo – of Greensburg, Pa., puts out a solid track team on the Division Two level.
Meanwhile is a long list of other Olympians, title-winners on all levels, and tales of past track glories. It can also be found in those fading Seton Hall University archives, But it will take some deep dustbin digging.
Sure, it’s an over-optimistic, pie-in-the-sky reflection by now, but the exploits of Noah and Josephus Lyles woulda-coulda-shoulda-just-might-have been in those archives, too.
If only someone high up at the Hall administrative offices had the courage to say “no, no, no,” back in 2010.
So, yes-yes-yes, we might have Noah’s Park in South Orange now. All entries, of course, two by two.