TEANECK, N.J. -- Former Teaneck High School track star Justin Cifuentes has returned to pass on his knowledge of running as head cross-country coach at Benjamin Franklin Middle School.
"I am really excited to bring a youthful enthusiasm -- since I am only 22 -- and knowledge of the sport," he said.
Growing up in the township, Cifuentes competed in cross-country in the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring through all four years of high school.
He would have participated in middle school if a program existed.
"I feel very privileged to be a part of something we didn’t have," Cifuentes said.
He ran year-round at Hood College in Frederick, MD, while majoring in English and Secondary Education.
"I hope to become a high school English teacher," said Cifuentes, who is working as a substitute teacher.
Last year, the middle school cross-country team had a half-dozen runners. Cifuentes has already recruited nearly 30.
"The pretty exciting part of it is that for many kids this is their first exposure to the sport itself," he said. "My goal is to get them interested and to have them continue running cross country and track at the high school."
Along with the benefits of health and fitness, Cifuentes said, the athletes can push themselves toward excellence.
"Unlike other sports, you are setting and conquering your own goals," he said. "You are part of team but individually you can conquer times you have set before and get personal bests and personal records."
The season will run from September through Oct. 17, when the team will compete at the championships at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ.