July 10, 2010
DeRutyer was perfect spot for retiring Camelbeek
Like most eager and anxious college graduates, Steve Camelbeek was searching for a job after getting his degree from Murray State in Kentucky.
Upon returning to his native New York State and hometown of Hudson, the education folks at Albany State helped set him up in the DeRuyter Central School District figuring that was an ideal location to launch a teaching and coaching career.
“Albany said it was a good place to start and you might want to move on eventually,” recalls Camelbeek of how things unfolded 40 years ago.
“But it’s such a great place to live,” he adds. “It’s remote, but I like it like that. It’s been a great place to live, a good place to raise your kids.”
Yes, once arriving at the rural hamlet of DeRuyter there would be no moving on for Camelbeek. And heading towards his 63rd birthday later this month, he plans to keep coaching track and cross country at the small Class D school despite having retired this spring from his other duties — which included a second stint as athletic director. This past weekend, friends and family gathered to honor the retirement of this invaluable jack of all trades.
Camelbeek headed up the cross country program for 39 seasons and directed track and field for his entire 40-year stay at DeRuyter. He also coached junior varsity and varsity basketball for the Rockets while teaching things like technology, agriculture, mechanical drawing, conservation and physical education.
“I don’t feel like I’m worn out,” he says of continuing on with coaching career with the Rockets in retirement. He will also be available as a substitute teacher. “I still like doing that. In fact, I have a lot of fun doing it. I’m right here, the kids have a good time and I like doing it.”
There was a time when he thought about moving on. After 15 years at DeRuyter, Camelbeek went to SUNY Cortland to get certified in physical education and ponder taking on a new adventure.
“The plan was to move on and teach physical education someplace else, but they (DeRuyter) started giving me phys-ed classes here,” he recalls. “I moved back and forth from the shop to the gym and it was the best of both worlds.”
He’s done more than coach and teach, too. He’s been a DeRuyter fireman since 1976, often ends up behind the wheel of a DeRuyter school bus in a pinch and in 1984 started maple syrup “Sugar Project” for his students where they tap 300-500 local trees and tend to them from February until April.
But track and field in the spring and cross country in the autumn have been his main passion, which seems only normal for someone who was a distance runner at SUNY Cobleskill and Murray State. He ran in three national meets at Cobleskill before graduating in 1967, and was inducted into that school’s Hall of Fame in 2001. His Murray State cross country team was an Ohio Valley Conference championship, and he ran in the NCAA Division I meet at VanCortlandt Park in New York City. That gave his parents a chance to make the trip down from the Hudson Valley to watch him compete.
“I was a distance runner in college but never had a distance runner get a medal in the state meet,” mused Camelbeek.
Not that DeRuyter has not been successful on the state meet scene, the Rockets program thriving through the years despite not having a track facility at the school.
Hurdles and relay baton hand-offs are practiced in the school parking lot, while runners have to take to the roads for workouts.
Still the Rockets had four athletes earn state medals in track and field, while Camelbeek granddaughter Samantha Moade won a state medal her junior season in cross country — and probably would have repeated as a senior if not for stress fracture woes.
Camelbeek recalls fondly how the 4x100-meter relay foursome of Don Williams, Chris Welsh, David Cook and Jermaine Kapolka won the Section 3 State Qualifier title at Cicero-North Syracuse in 2002.
“That was amazing considering how hard it is to get four sprinters of that caliber in a school this size, to get four guys who can really burn in the 100,” he says.
Kapolka was his top sprinter, while Harley Marshall from the 1980s was a top runner from 400-meters on up for the Rockets.
Camelbeek also chuckled about recruiting Dustin Becker out of the school hallway — noting his frame and long arms would be perfect suited for a discus thrower — and seeing him develop into a state meet medal winner in that event.
Current high school coach Paul Drexler and past SUNY Cortland track captain Dan Petley are DeRuyter grads still running marathons.
Kristi Custer is a record-setting triple jumer at Nazareth College, while Adrian Stone at Alfred State, Elliott Stone at Fredonia State and Luke and Matt Burdick at Plattsburgh excelled on the college scene.
Luke Burdick now an assistant coach at Colgate University, too.
Camelbeek also got to coach all five of the daughters he and wife Sandy raised — Carol (Class of 1987), Barb (’88), Jennifer (’91), Karen (’94) and Eileen (’97) that brood.
Eileen Camelbeek even continued the family tradition of running at Cobleskill.
Grandson T.J. Moade, Samantha’s brother, is a promising sophomore 400-meter runner who will be under Camelbeek’s guidance this coming season.
“It's always great fun. My own kids and I always used to have a bunch of kids who’d meet to go running Saturday mornings or Sunday mornings,” said Camelbeek.
They would be dropped off with their coach at some random spot and have to run back to the Camelbeek homestead in Quaker Basin.
At first it was the “Run for the Dogs” where hot dogs would be waiting at the finish. Later, the the final reward was switched to pancakes and eggs.
“Sometimes when I go running by myself, I miss running with all those kids,” said Camelbeek. “The runs around the lake, the camaraderie with the kids. It sounds funny, going running and having fun, but we had a lot of fun.”
When Camelbeek began coaching physical education at DeRuyter 1989, was able to get kids interested in track at a younger age and the Rockets started to really take off.
The best years were from 1998-2002, where Camelbeek figured out his teams posted an 89-11 record mostly going up against larger opponents.
While he cites luck as a factor, too, coaching has to be a part of the equation.
“When I started I thought I knew everything. It’s amazing all the things you don’t know. I didn’t know how to coach any of the field events, and I made a point to learn,” said Camelbeek.
“I told the kids I wasn’t the smartest guy in the world, but I was smart enough to go to a clinic and listen to guys who knew what they were doing,” he added, former Cortland High coach Murray Banks — whom he competed against in college — among his coaching peers.
“We’ve always looked for good competition and have gone to big meets. When you bring kids into a big competitions, that brings out the best in them when they have to perform,” he says of his DeRuyter days. “Overall, kids get better when they run against good competition and my kids aren’t afraid of good compassion now. We’re not afraid to bump heads.”
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