Ten years of service. 177 wins, paired with a mere 25 loses. Dozens of kids who became top-tier athletes. The experience of a lifetime.
Before Island Trees High School varsity track and field coach Joe Manna heads to Atlanta for retirement, he is on a mission. The man who turned around this program wants both the boys and girls squads to excel in his final weeks as coach of the Bulldogs.
“Ten years ago, when I took over the program, Island Trees was close to dropping it,” Manna, who teaches chemistry, said. “I’m leaving this place knowing that most of the talent are freshmen and sophomores, so there’s no reason why the other coaches can’t continue this strength.”
In unprecedented fashion, both the Island Trees girls and boys track and field teams went undefeated this year, each tallying 15 wins and not a single loss prior to the playoffs. The Nassau County Conference IV champions are now ready to send Manna off in style.
Manna, along with co-coach Fred DeRuvo (spring), and assistants Will Frohnhoefer (winter), Emily Brostowin (winter and spring) and Shaylyn Stehl (spring), run the program differently compared to others on Long Island. Instead of having completely separate boys and girls teams, they make it a co-ed effort, and it’s worked extremely well over Manna’s 10 years at Island Trees.
“It’s the place to be,” he said. “We treat it like a co-ed team, so it’s a great place for boys and girls. They like to associate on the team, and there’s a lot of people cheering each other on, which is amazing. We run it as one big track and field program.”
Athletic Director Sean Burns feels the same, praising both teams for their undefeated seasons in 2019.
“I truly believe they fed off the accomplishments of each other with each team raising the bar for the other,” he said. “When our girls team would win a meet on Monday, the boys would want to match their success at their meet the next day.”
This year, the girls track and field team was led by Gianna McGowan, who Manna believes is “the best sprinter in our conference by far.” There is also Kara Duffy, Kat Kramer and Courtney Martin, who have each become leaders for the Bulldogs.
The squad started out the year facing the tough Valley Stream South team, entering the match as an underdog. But once the Bulldogs won that game, they were determined to beat anyone and everyone who crossed their path.
For the boys group, Tommy Zamroz has continued to excel with the Bulldogs. Additionally, Manna said distance runners, Matt Zerbarini and Justin Ortiz, “have a great chance at going to states.” Manna also pointed out long-jumper Juan Ivaldy, a sophomore who will likely go to the state tournament as well.
The girls were so strong that Manna was named as Conference IV Coach of the Year in the winter. It’s an honor he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s emotional to build something up so high and to know I’m no longer going to be part of it,” Manna said on his retirement. “I’ll be in Georgia, but I’ll come up and surprise people every now and then.”
Manna’s loss to the program is one that is certainly bittersweet. His hard work, dedication and success won’t be forgotten when the boys and girls hit the track at Island Trees.
Though he is going out on top, it’s tough to say goodbye.
“His dedication to our track program and athletes were second to none,” Burns said. “He was a great promoter of the program, juggled all of the administrative tasks and most importantly, made our athletes better at their craft. He will be truly missed.”