Academics come first (on most days) for Fitch track standout John Coleman

John Coleman was in the first grade when he began reading the Harry Potter series, meaning that since he was 6 years old he was pretty much headed for a career in academics.

Coleman, a senior at Fitch High School who contributed significantly Tuesday to the boys' track and field team's 77-73 victory over Norwich Free Academy that clinched the Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division championship, is headed next year to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.

He's not sure if he'll compete in track and field at Bucknell, where he'll major in math and economics. He received a Dean's Scholarship at the college, given to recipients which "present outstanding academic profiles, highlighting a very rigorous curriculum, superior grades and standardized test scores with a commitment to school and civic engagement."

Coleman is all that.

He is a member of the National Honor Society who has received his academic letter and academic chevron at Fitch. He's a recipient of the Dartmouth Book Award.

He's also an Eagle Scout, a milestone he reached at the beginning of April. The final project he completed to become an Eagle Scout involved helping to restore the playground at his church, Sacred Heart in Groton. He repaired a rusty jungle gym, replaced missing swings and built a garden, among other things, raising funds through a pancake breakfast.

"That's what I did in my free time before track or anything," Coleman said. "I read when I was younger. … Academics have to come first. In high school it's easy to balance everything: track, school, scouting. But I've talked to people about college. They say pick two things you're interested in and that's what you focus on."

Coleman is 5-foot-6, an "unlikely hurdler," according to Fitch coach Rich Kosta, able to clear the hurdles because of the speed he amasses in between them.

Coleman was a part of the 4x200-meter relay team during indoor season that finished second in Class L, sixth in the State Open and 11th inNew Englandwith a school-record time of 1 minute, 34.35 seconds.

On Tuesday, he won the 110 hurdles (16.0 seconds) and the 300 hurdles (41.7), helping Fitch earn just enough points on the track while the field competitors overwhelmed NFA for the narrow victory.

It was Fitch's first ECC title since 2008, the first of the seniors' careers, a day when athletics still mattered plenty to Coleman.

Coleman was involved in a collision with NFA's Chase Guillemette in the fast heat of the 110 hurdles, when Guillemette strayed into Coleman's lane inadvertently. Coleman was allowed to re-run the hurdles in the next heat due to the interference and did so with more than a few scrapes and bruises.

"He brushed himself off and said, 'No, I'm ready to go,'" Kosta said. "I felt the back of his head where he hit it and there was no bump. His eyes were clear. And his dad was standing right with me making sure he was OK."

"In past years NFA would just beat us 100-50," Coleman said. "There's absolutely no guarantees against them. They're a big school with great athletes, great depth."

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