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Belle Vernon runner going the distance

| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Belle Vernon's Matt McCloskey said he would like to qualify for the state championships in the 800 meters.
Belle Vernon's Matt McCloskey said he would like to qualify for the state championships in the 800 meters.

It was no surprise to Belle Vernon track coach Chris Stasicha when Matt McCloskey set a new school record in the 800 meters at the WPIAL finals last year as a junior. In setting the school record with a time of 1:59.99, good for a 13th-place finish, he bettered the prior record of 2:01. In breaking the two-minute barrier, McCloskey became the first Leopards' runner to eclipse that mark.

As a sophomore McCloskey qualified for the prestigious WPIAL finals in the 400 meters, running the quarter-mile in 52.53. In the Mid-Mon Valley Classic last year McCloskey copped firsts in the 400 and 800, second in the 400 at the Big 8 Conference meet and another second in the 800 at the California University of Pennsylvania Track Carnival.

“Matt finished the season on a high note with his WPIAL finish,” Stasicha said. “Qualifying as a sophomore, we knew his potential was there, and he improved on his numbers last year. He is motivated to do the best he can to reach his goals. Matt played football and added some muscle, which has helped him on the track. He has matured as a runner and is more of a complete runner now.”

Stasicha added that McCloskey could be the Leopards' top miler, but his strengths in the 400 and 800 meters runner keep him out of the mile event and fresh for the shorter distance races. Besides the WPIAL final last year, McCloskey was a shining light against Yough, with four first places, including in the 400 and 800. Running the anchor leg on the 3,200 meter and 1,600 meter relay teams, he came from behind to win both events.

Even though he has found success in several events, McCloskey, a middle-distance runner in the 400 and 800, said he prefers “the 400. It's a faster race and not as long and monotonous.”

And Stasicha is looking for even better results from his distance ace this season, who was a conference defensive honorable mention selection in football this past season.

“Matt's off-season workouts and conditioning went well,” Stasicha added. “If there is an area where he can improve, it's being more aggressive at the beginning of a race and keeping pace with the leaders until he sprints the final 200 meters.”

Wanting to be involved in a spring sport, McCloskey literally followed in the footsteps of his brother, Mitchell, who ran track for the Leps.

“I watched him and followed him,” McCloskey said. “I tried it, and I've enjoyed it. So far everything is working out well. My goal last year was to get the school record in the 800, to get under two minutes, so I was satisfied, even though I didn't qualify for states. This season I hope to lower my time in the 800, and I would like to go to states.”

But McCloskey's achievements extend beyond the track to the classroom and extracurricular activities. With a complement of honors classes, he maintains a 4.3 grade average and is ranked 19th out of some 200 students in his senior class. A member of the National Honor Society, McCloskey also holds membership in the MIC-SADD and Interact clubs.

Additionally, earlier this year McCloskey, a member of Troop 1005 in Washington, was presented with his Eagle Scout Badge for his work in building 20 picnic tables in Washington Park in Washington.

As McCloskey was considering several possible ideas for his Eagle Scout project, he discovered the park's need for replacing the tables, he said. He began to plan the project in 2011 and raised $2,700 from local businesses. Actual construction of the standard 8-foot long tables, with the help of family members and his scout troop, was completed in July 2012. Recognizing those businesses responsible for the donations, McCloskey attached name plates with donors' names on each table.

“There was an immediate and fantastic response from the local businesses,” McCloskey said. “People were glad to participate and the appearance of the park definitely improved. This was definitely a worthwhile project.”

Washington Councilman and Director of Parks Terry Faust added that each year the city offers potential Eagle Scouts the opportunity to become involved with various city-related projects, and McCloskey was quick to accept the responsibility for building the new picnic tables.

“We either needed the older tables to go through a renovation or have new tables built, and Matt did an outstanding job,” Faust explained. “Besides the quality work, what made the project more appealing was that there was no expense for the city. Matt accepted all responsibilities with the fundraising as well. We are proud of his dedication and work.”

Les Harvath is a freelance writer.

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