P.A.L. Course for 11 to 13-Year-Olds Could Be Uplifting

Among the trainers who are excited to be part of a turnaround are, from left, Avery Crocker, Connor Miller, and Mike Roesch, who were at Studio 89 the other day with the owner, Rich Decker (behind Roesch) and Gary Stanis. Jack Graves

    Gary Stanis, who brought traveling Police Athletic League football to East Hampton in 2008, said this week that to give the high school program a boost, the East Hampton P.A.L. organization hopes to put 20 to 25 seventh and eighth graders through a 12-week strength, speed, agility, and nutrition program at Sag Harbor’s Studio 89 this summer.
    “This won’t be play time — we’re only interested in getting kids who seriously want to improve their fitness and ability. This three-day-a-week program will improve their performance in all sports, not just in football,” said Stanis during a conversation this week.
    The cost of the program, which has yet to be reckoned, will be significantly lessened by the fact that Rich Decker, who manages Hampton Gym Corporation’s fitness centers in East Hampton, Southampton, and Sag Harbor, and who owns Studio 89, off Clay Pit Road in Sag Harbor, “the largest gym on Long Island,” will donate the space.
    Answering a question, Decker said that medical opinion had come around in recent years to support trainer-supervised strength training for 11 to 13-year-olds as a means of preventing injury. “It’s a myth that it stunts your growth,” Decker said.
Studio 89, he said, has 4,000 square feet of interior space and 20,000 square feet outside, comprising an obstacle course known as the Pit with cargo net walls, climbing and swinging ropes, jumbo tires, and the like. Body-weight training will take place there and inside, as well, using TRX suspension apparatuses. Weight training with dumbbells, he said, will be tailored to each student.
Stanis, who is now a member of the local P.A.L. organization, and Don Reese, who is its president, said that the need for earlier strength, speed, and agility training here has become painfully evident. East Hampton’s varsity, outnumbered, outmuscled, and less knowledgeable football-wise than its opponents, frequently facing foes who had played the game nine years, went 0-8 this fall.
“All the schools up the Island are doing this — by the time you get into the weight room at the high school it’s too late. Those linemen up there are all benching 300 to 350,” said Stanis, whose own example could serve as a teaching point. The 1978 Smithtown East team he captained won the Division III championship and went 8-1 after having gone 1-7 in his junior year.
    “We’re doing this from the bottom up — it has to start somewhere,” said Reese.
    “We’re calling this ‘the football revival project,’ ” said Stanis. “The trainers [Connor Miller, Avery Crocker, and Mike Roesch among them] are all excited about being part of this. They’d love to be part of a turnaround. . . . If we can feed 20 to 25 kids up to the varsity who are in good shape and know the game, they’ll be able to compete even if the other schools suit up more players.”
    There would be low-weight, high-repetition training at Studio 89, “no max weight, low rep lifting,” he emphasized, adding that “it’s a proven fact that if done the right way strength training prevents injuries rather than causes them. Professional trainers will be overseeing these kids.”
    Four hand-picked potential leaders from the targeted junior high group would embark, Stanis said, on a 10-week pilot program in March, and he expects that the visible results will persuade their peers to follow suit in June.
    “Our goal is to have 25 go through this program,” he said. “Any more than that would be a bonus, but we don’t want a whole lot of kids, only the ones who seriously want to improve themselves. We’re basically hand-picking them.”
    “Once this gets going,” said Reese, “we’re hoping that every year we’ll get kids to train with trainers for the entire year — they’ll get stronger and quicker faster that way.”
    The P.A.L. plans, moreover, to add a seventh-grade and an eighth-grade travel team next year, teams that Stanis said are to be outfitted with “the latest equipment, new uniforms and everything . . . the helmets alone cost $200 each. Which reminds me, we’d very much like to get some financial help from the community.”
    Also next fall, he said, “we’d like to bring in a couple of people who have played in the N.F.L. and live out here to give clinics on different aspects of the game.”
    Basketball has also been on Reese and Stanis’s minds lately.
    “For the first time we’re holding a holiday invitational basketball tournament for fifth and sixth-grade teams at the East Hampton Middle School, on Dec. 17 and 18. We’re looking for a sponsor for that. And, also for the first time, we’re going to take a fifth and sixth-grade team and a seventh and eighth-grade team to play in the Northport Classic,” said Reese.