Polar Bears run through the winter

| 30 Nov 2017 | 11:47

By Laurie Gordon
— Coaching The Polar Bears Track & Field Club is a true labor of love for Bruce Wask. Held each winter at the Fredon Recreation Center, the program primes athletes in grades five through 12 in the various events in the sport including jumping, throwing, hurdling, sprinting and distance running.
Founded by Wask in 2004 as a winter extension of the Bears Youth Running Program, which is held in the spring and fall, The Polar Bears Track & Field Club is a USA Track & Field (USATF) sanctioned organization. The Club is proud to have athletes that have won USATF National Youth Indoor Championships and NJSIAA Track Titles.
“The Polar Bears may be even more proud to have had many National Honor Society Members and Sussex County (NJ) Superintendent's Roundtable Award Winners,” Wask said.
When he started the program in 2004, he said he never thought it would keep going for this many years. He volunteers his time six days a week and said he's been blessed with some great helpers over the years.
Wask has many years of experience coaching youth athletes in all Track & Field events. Wask began his coaching career in 1969 at Columbia High School (NJ) after serving in the military. Wask, along with Len Klepack (a member of the NJSIAA Coaching Hall of Fame) started the high school's Indoor Track and Girl's Outdoor Track programs. Whether by group/individual instruction or through one of his many stories, Coach Wask is always willing to share his knowledge and passion for the sport.
“As I get older, Allison Anderson had been such a help. When her son was a senior in high school and involved in the program, she asked me if I needed help. I said absolutely.”
Wask and his wife, Ginny, used to hold an annual pancake breakfast at their home for the club, but when Ginny passed away, the Anderson family took over hosting it. Another Polar Bear parent, Bill Shackelton, had gotten Ginny's famous pancake recipe from her prior to her passing, so now he makes the pancakes and has added strawberry, blueberry and chocolage chip flavors tot he mix.
And there have been so many helpers over the years.
“The past couple of years Bill Delfing asked if I could use some help,” Wask said. “He was a hurdler and jumper at Newton high school and told me, 'Boy I wish they had this program when I was a kid.'”
Another Polar Bears volunteer, Mike Busso, went on to create an indoor program at Newton high School.
Sparta High School coach, Tony Lombardo, helped out last year and in the past Dean Giering and Jackie Kaufman have volunteered. Hailey Guhr went through the program and comes back every year to help out with the hurdles, high jump and shot put.
“Randy Walker does the website and Randy's son, Ryan, was our first national champion ever when he was in the eighth grade in the shot put,” Wask said. “Randy was instrumental in starting the indoor North Warren program.”
The program is held each weekday afternoon at The Fredon Rec Center and the group meets at the Paulins Kill Trail on Saturday mornings. Countless schools that don't offer indoor running programs have The Polar Bears to thank for keeping their athletes in shape and learning in the winter months.
“The most rewarding thing is the kids,” said Wask of the program. “To watch them progress and to see the kind of people that they become is just overwhelming. The kids we've gotten have been absolutely fantastic.”
Wask said the biggest problem with keeping the program going is, well, himself.
“I like to sit on the couch and read the paper and do the crossword puzzle,” he laughed, “But these kids keep me going.”
In the off Polar Bears season, Wask attends their cross country and track meets to check in on how they're doing.
Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs. Yes, the four time Olympian, six time US Indoor Champ, five time US Champ, two time bronze medalist at World Indoors, 1986 Festival Champion, 1980 Pan American Gold Medalist and 1980 Junior Champion. She and Wask have been friends for years and though she routinely gets paid a pretty penny to do speaking engagements, with the club on a slim, self-funded budget, she accepts those famous pancakes as payment to speak most years to the Polar Bears and each summer, 15 to 20 Polar Bears attend her camp.
During the Polar Bears season, the kids compete at various meets, as well. For further information, call Bruce Wask at 908-415-7787 or visit <URL destination="http://www.polarbearstrack.org. ">www.polarbearstrack.org.