McNair’s Rickerby comes of age at NJSIAA state sectionals

Haig Rickerby never saw himself as being an accomplished runner in track and field. Growing up, the McNair Academic junior had other interests.
“I was highly involved in tae kwon do,” Rickerby said. “I would spend three or four days a week either training or teaching. I was such an energetic kid that I needed something like tae kwon do to keep me active. I always needed something to wake me up.”
Rickerby said that he was told that he was getting very good at the mixed martial art.
“My instructor, Keith Kelly, told me that it was definitely something I was getting good at,” said Rickerby, who reached the level of secondary black belt with tae kwon do. “I tended to be a little bigger than the kids my age, so I always had to go against older kids. Instructor Kelly convinced me that I was good at it and that helped me with everything.”
When Rickerby enrolled at McNair Academic, he was encouraged to try out for track and field.
“I ran a little bit when I was at Our Lady of Czestochowa,” Rickerby said. “They had meets on Saturday [the Olympic Spirit meets in Bayonne County Park] and I ran in those. I don’t think I was really good. People told me I could run, but I would start a race, then I’d go crazy and run in the wrong direction, then have to turn around.”
But McNair Academic head track coach Matt Hogan thought Rickerby had a lot of promise.
“Even in his freshman year, you could see that he had the potential to be very special,” Hogan said. “You never know for sure. I knew he was involved in other things, like playing soccer. I knew he had a lot of natural speed. He just needed to put it all together.”
Hogan began to see the development of Rickerby.
“He trained hard, but he trained smart,” Hogan said. “He takes care of himself. He eats right and does the right things. He’s a hard worker.”
Rickerby then had to make a tough decision. He either had to pursue running full time or attempt to do tae kwon do and run at the same time.
“It was hard to balance the educational value of tae kwon do with running and academics,” Rickerby said. “It was a hard decision to make.”
When Rickerby started to take running seriously, he had a personal mentor in teammate Melvin Delvillar.
“He kept me in line,” Rickerby said of the since graduated Delvillar. “Anytime I thought like I did something good, he wouldn’t let it get to my head. He would hit me with a quick insult to bring me back down again and sit me in my place. But he also did encourage me all the time.”
Rickerby managed to make his way onto the Cougars’ roster, but ran into a series of obstacles, a hurt hip flexor one year, a sprained knee another.
“Coach Hogan let me do the sprinting events, which I felt were my strongest,” Rickerby said. “But then I’d get hurt and be out for a month. We both realized that I was better suited for the quicker events, but I was built for the 400 [meter run] and the 800 [meter run].”
Fast forward to 2016 and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championships at the Bennett Center in Toms River.
Rickerby, fresh off his win in the 400-meter dash at the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championships, was poised to display his talents on the state sectional level.
“I definitely felt like I was getting good,” Rickerby said. “I was feeling right in a sense. The practices I had were driving me to do as much as I could on that level.”
Rickerby merely went out and won three gold medals at the state sectional meet, capturing the gold in the 400-meter dash (50.34 seconds), the 800-meter run (2:00.58) and running the anchor leg in the Cougars’ 4×400-meter relay (3:33.60).
Rickerby said that he felt a huge burden lifted off his shoulders with the win in the relay.
“It was a relief for me, because I was sick the entire week prior,” Rickerby said. “I was coughing all the time and I had a headache. My legs were hurting. All I kept telling myself was I promised my relay teammates that I could do this. I felt like the relay team wanted it as much as I did. I felt that there was a sense of achievement crossing the finish line. It was really nice. I liked it.”
A week later, in the overall Group I championships, Rickerby was second in the 400-meter dash (50.18 seconds) and third in the 800-meter run (1:59.94), earning berths in both events to compete at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions this weekend.
For his efforts, Rickerby has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Rickerby’s three gold medals enabled the Cougars to finish third as a team, behind winner Whippany Park and runner-up Shabazz.
“He’s only going to get bigger and stronger,” Hogan said. “He still has to develop more. I never expected him to win all three events, but I’m not shocked that he did. I’m very happy. The times he posted were top notch. I just think winning three at the sectionals is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more to come.”
Rickerby agrees with his coach.
“I’m not there yet,” Rickerby said. “I’m getting there, but there are still other kids who are better than me. I think what I accomplished was good on a small scale. It’s not the level of good that I want to be at. I’m not even close to grasping that yet.”
Rickerby realizes what his athletic past has done for him.
“I think tae kwon do helped me become a better runner,” Rickerby said. “Not only physically, but mentally. The whole threshold of pain and dealing with it comes from Instructor Kelly and tae kwon do. It definitely played a very larger part in becoming a better runner.”
And some day, maybe Rickerby might be able to handle both. Right now, he’s content being a three-time state sectional champion.
“It has a nice ring to it,” Rickerby said. “I never thought it was possible.” – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached at

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