ROSELLE – “Hey there, Delilah” is what Roselle Catholic High School students enjoyed an opportunity to say or sing when professional runner Delilah DiCrescenzo made a recent appearance in The Lions’Den.
DiCrescenzo, a Columbia University Hall of Famer, spoke to students as part of Roselle Catholic’s annual freshman orientation program on Sept. 27. In addition to the entire ninth grade class, members of the Roselle Catholic cross-country program listened to the nationally ranked steeplechase and cross country runner.
Her message resonated with the students and members of the RC community.
“Delilah making a visit to Roselle Catholic was a great thing for the freshmen and all the students who met her,” said Mike Kennedy, an assistant cross-country and track coach and first-year science teacher at Roselle Catholic. “She had a very positive message that you can always be successful in some area of life, especially if you are passionate about it.
“Being a runner, the cross country team especially benefited from hearing Delilah speak about her trials and tribulations. The message some of the students took away from her talk was to never give up, despite the adversity. If the students can learn that from her I think she had quite an impact on Roselle Catholic.”
Representing Puma and the New Jersey-New York Track Club, which is coached by Frank Gagliano, who launched a legendary career at Roselle Catholic more than 50 years ago, DiCrescenzo competed in the 3,000 meters steeplechase finals this past June at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugne, Ore.
“I think Delilah is a great role model,” said Mary Angelique Demetillo, a senior member of Roselle Catholic’s cross country team. “She was very informative. Her story was inspiring and motivating. It made me want to work harder and strive to do better in school and cross country.”
RC alumnus and former track star Mike Garvey, who was part of a Penn Relays championship under Gagliano, helped RC Principal Dr. Robert Stickles introduce DiCrescenzo, who answered quite a few questions from students.
DiCrescenzo delivered a performance worthy of a gold medal in the race to provide inspiration to teenagers. “She inspired a lot of new runners to stay with cross country and not give up,” said senior Mateo Acito. “She was an inspiration to all of us.”
Inspiring seems to be what DiCrescenzo specializes in. Tom Higgenson, front man of the Plain White T’s, wrote “Hey There Delilah” after he met DiCrescenzo.
Though the two never dated, Delilah DiCrescenzo, a Chicago native, accepted an invitation from Higgenson to attend the 2008 Grammy Awards with the blessing of her boyfriend. The song, the most played song on the radio during July, 2007, has sold more than 4,000,000 digital copies in the United States.
At RC, following a video presentation highlighting her accomplishments on the track, the Ivy League-educated DiCrescenzo inspired even the non- runners in the audience.
“Not only was Delilah an inspiration to the runners, but to everyone in the room,” said freshman Mark Demetillo. “She encouraged us to always try new things and to constantly test our limits, whether it be academically or physically.”
“Delilah was very interesting and very inspiring,” said sophomore Dolapo Balogun, who runs cross country and plays basketball at Roselle Catholic. “If I was one of the freshmen I would have definitely joined the cross country team after listening to her.”
DiCrescenzo’s specialty, the steeplechase, is considered one of the toughest running events in track & field. Each runner must clear a total of 28 ordinary barriers and seven water jumps over a 3,000 meter race. A sociology major at Columbia with a masters in sports management, DiCrescenzo has done some part-time coaching at her alma mater.
“I learned that things don’t come easy in life,” Balogun said. “If you have a dream, follow it and never give up, even at the sign of some adversity.”
“Hearing Delilah speak gave the freshmen good motivation to get involved in school,” said senior Matthew Boscia. “It was a good idea for all the freshmen to see and hear that getting involved and then working hard can really pay off.”
Boscia helped RC win an eighth consecutive division championship last October, when he placed second in the Union County Conference’s Valley Division race at Warinanco Park. The Lions, with frenetic finishes in 2011 by Sean Kip, Kevin Drastura, Mike LaMorte and Joe Zibkowski, nipped Oratory by one point to retain the Valley Division crown.
The Lions aim for a ninth consecutive title on Oct. 16 at Warinanco Park. Roselle Catholic’s Brigid Alvarado, a junior, is the defending UCC Valley Division champ.
“From listening to Delilah, I learned that what you do in high school can, and probably will, affect the rest of your life,” Boscia said. “I also learned how something that may not seem too rewarding can turn out very rewarding in the end. She said there were many times she felt like not running, but did anyway.
“This shows that with determination and hard work anything can happen – even becoming a professional athlete. The cross country team was reminded that if we just stick with it, and really work hard, great benefits will come to our team.”
With lots of inexperienced runners in the cross country program this fall was perhaps the best time in recent memory for RC harriers to hear DiCrescenzo’s message.
“In her speech Delilah mentioned that she had never run track or cross country before and the when she first began she wasn’t very good,” said RC freshman Marsha Monel. “That relates to me and the majority of my teammates. Over time, we’ve improved. The fact that Delilah started out as we have has taught me that you can become amazing at something if you work hard.”
“When she talked about not being very good in high school at first and working hard, getting a scholarship and then basically the same thing happened when she went to college – the small fish in a big pond lesson – and now she’s a pro,”said Roselle Catholic co-head coach Paul Irwin. “It’s a great story and a great model for success.”
“Hearing Delilah speak gave us an idea of what a cross country and track experience can be like in college and beyond,” said senior Sean Kip.
Irwin – an RC alum, like co-coach Carmine DeNicola and assistant coach Kennedy –thought DiCrescenzo’s message was a powerful one for both championship-caliber runners and novices.
“When Delilah spoke about first going out for cross country and not being very good. I thought that could really hit home with a lot of students,” Irwin said.“I think the students could learn that it’s OK to not always be the best as long as you’re willing to work hard and strive to reach your potential.”
Many of the Roselle Catholic cross country runners are already looking forward to a return hit performance in Union County from DiCrescenzo.
“The team is already asking when she can come back to talk again, take a team picture with her and most importantly spend more time with her,” Coach Kennedy said. “I want to know if she can come back and take a team photo with us,” Acito said. Freshman Nathan Pineda said: “We should have Delilah come to practice.”
“Delilah should come to a meet or practice one day to see the running descendants of Coach Gags,” said senior Khalil Davis, referring to Coach Gagliano, whose name is on the Walkway of Champions that leads to the track behind Roselle Catholic.