Bethlehem distance runner Steve Booker got the official word Thursday that he’s been invited to the prestigious Millrose Games.
“One of my coaches told me. It was great to hear,” said the 17-year-old, who’ll join 11 others in the New Balance High School Mile Feb. 15 at The Armory in New York City. “Since the cross country season ended, it’s something I’ve been pointing to.”
Booker had been in limbo since last Saturday, when he ran second on The Armory’s banked track as part of the New Balance Games. That mile race, won by Virginia ace Louis Colson of Thomas Edison in 4:18.49, served as a Millrose qualifier.
“Only the winner was going to go for sure, but other guys could make it to Millrose if their time was fast enough,” said Booker. “After the race, there was something on the [Section II Harrier] website about me making it, but no one came to me with the official word. I ended up making it as wild card. My time was good enough.”
Booker ran a personal-best 4:19.06 at the New Balance Games, adding to his list of winter accomplishments. He ran his fastest 1,000-meter race (2:33.17) and placed second at the Southern Tier Invitational at Cornell, and also helped the Eagles win the 4x400 relay (3:34.76) at that meet.
“I thought I ran a smart race,” he said of his performance at the New Balance Games. “I ran from the back end, and made my move with 300 meters to go. I took the lead with 150 to go, and couldn’t quite hold it.
“I was running to win last week. If you don’t go to a race looking to win, why go at all? I’m going back there with a goal of winning.”
Booker will be running against several familiar athletes at the Millrose Games, including Northport’s Mike Brannigan and Tim McGowan and Marco Pompilj of Collegiate. Those three placed fifth, seventh and eighth, respectively, in the 1,600 at the 2013 state indoor championships while Booker took 10th.
Brannigan has one of the top Millrose seed times with a 4:17.04, and Luke Gavigan of Tappan Zee leads the field with a 4:15.68.
“It will definitely be the highest-level track race I’ve ever run in. I’m really excited,” said Booker, a standout student who has committed to Rice University. “I think it can drive me to a good time.”
Booker’s times have dropped significantly since he began competing for Bethlehem as a freshman. He said one of the highlights of his junior year was when he set a school record in the outdoor 1,600 (4:15.67) at the state qualifier.
“I remember him finishing way back in the pack as a freshman. He’s morphed into a super star,” said Jack Rightmyer, who coaches the Bethlehem girls’ cross country team. “I credit that to pure hard work. He’s the kind of athlete you use as a mole model for the younger kids. He came from nowhere. Look at him now.”
Booker made the all-state Class A honorable mention list following his junior cross country season. He jumped to the first team as a senior after winning the Suburban Council title, taking second at the sectionals and fifth at the New York meet.
“He got a taste. After his junior year he told me he wanted to keep getting better, and he did,” said Sean Schreiner, Bethlehem’s indoor track coach. “His work ethic is incredible.”
Jay Navin of Saratoga Springs represented Section II at the Millrose Games last year and placed third in the New Balance High School Mile.
Griffin to Wagner
Shaker defensive lineman Nick Griffin has accepted a full athletic scholarship to play football at Wagner College of the Northeast Conference.
The 6-foot-2, 260-pound senior was selected the Class AA Liberty Division Defensive Player of the Year and earned a spot on the Daily Gazette All-Area first team before making the all-state third team.
Griffin made 49 solo tackles with 4.5 sacks, returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown in a win over
Columbia, and blocked a punt to give Shaker a late scoring bid in its Section II championship-game loss to Christian Brothers Academy. Griffin helped the Blue Bison win the Section II title as a junior.
Griffin will be joined by Bethlehem senior Jason Clas at Wagner.
Colonie state champ
The Colonie girls’ cross country team is ranked No. 1 in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Scholar-Athlete Team Awards program for the fall season.
The Garnet Raiders led all of the state’s running teams with a 98.67 cumulative classroom average while also excelling athletically. Their accomplishment included first at the Grout Run in Schenectady, second at the Manhattan Invitational, third at the Section II meet and fourth at the Suburban Council meet.