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Interview by Carl Frederick

 McCaskey Track and Field Head Coach Derek Jennings is a grinder. Ask anyone from his team, staff or Red Tornado faithful they will tell you the same. Entering his 6th season in charge of the Tornadoes, Coach Jennings is coming off an historic season with both his boys and girls squad capturing the LL League Championship. It was Jennings first League and Section title under his watch, with key returnees in almost every event, expect to hear again from McCaskey as a Championship contender for 2022. The Solanco Hall of Famer stopped by 717 to talk about his upcoming season, the challenges they faced last year with Covid and the success of a few of his former athletes in college.

Carl Frederick: Tell us more about not only McCaskey's winter season, but the LL was well represented with athletes throughout the county medaling in States?

Derek Jennings: This was a highly successful season for us at McCaskey. We had kids improve all winter and set several personal bests in their events. I was able to team up with Officer Karson Arnold and Lancaster PAL (Police Athletic League) and host the first ever Lancaster-Lebanon League only indoor track meet. Our league is super strong again this year and that showed this winter. Katie Urbine from Solanco and Darren Cammauf of Manheim Township both took gold at states and a bunch of other kids from several different LL teams medaled. We had 13 athletes attend which is the most since I have been coaching. Indoor track is super difficult as there are no sections or classes, so it is extremely difficult to make the indoor state meet, let alone medal.

CF: From Nathan Henderson being an All-ACC selection for Syracuse, to Aliyah Striver tearing it up for Millersville, you have athletes doing great things all over the country?

DJ: We have had several student-athletes go on to college and compete. It’s something we take a lot of pride in and encourage kids to do. Doing a sport in college, regardless of the level, instantly gives you a group of people who you have something in common with. Sometimes kids are going to colleges and universities and don’t know a single person on campus so doing a sport eases the transition. Speaking of the two you mentioned, Nathan Henderson recently broke the 4 minute barrier in the mile for the first time and then had two All-ACC performances in the 5k and 3k. Aliyah Striver won the PSAC shot put this weekend, medaled in the weight throw and was recognized as athlete of the meet.

CF: You were recently inducted into the Solanco Hall of Fame, what was that experience like?

DJ: My parents both attended Solanco and were runners. My sisters and I followed their lead and also were runners down there. I put in thousands of miles of running when I was younger and gave everything I could every season. To get recognized for that hard work and to be able to share that moment with my family, former coaches and friends was really special.

CF: Last season must have been difficult to prepare with Covid regulations still very much in play, it seems to be trending back to normalcy across the county, is that the case?

DJ: Last season was the most challenging season I have had in coaching. Dealing with kids being quarantined, having to go through the return to play process, and not knowing if things would be shut down or if meets would be canceled was all stressful. I cannot say enough about our coaching staff and our kids. They focused on what they could control and consistently did the small things well day in and day out. There is more of a sense of normalcy heading into spring this year. That started with having indoor meets back in play and I think will continue this spring.

CF: What can we expect for McCaskey Track and Field for the Spring 2022 season?

DJ: We were able to win the league title on both the girls and the boys side last year, something McCaskey has not done since 1992. Our league is super tough with several good teams and a ton of great athletes, but we think we can compete with any team in the league. If we lose, a team is going to have to have a very good day and will know they were in a battle. Regardless of what our record is or how we place at the league meet and beyond, you can expect a McCaskey squad that is going to show up day in and day out and consistently put work in and improve as the season goes.

While McCaskey has had a tough time with many sports, Track and Field has stayed near or at the top every season. Coach Jennings has transitioned very well after taking over for Coach Frederick back in 2016. Getting to know Derek over this past year, I can tell you that his passion to be the best goes above and beyond most. Under his tutelage for seasons to come expect the Red Tornadoes to respond positively to his message. 

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