Imagine an academically focused high school with plenty of Asians Americans and without a consistently usable track and limited athletic funding. What if any sport would it excel in? Why track of course! In this interview at milesplit.com, Lowell High School’s track coach Andy Leong talks about his successes at Lowell and his own career, both of which are much different than the stereotypical image of Asian Americans and athletics.
For those of you who don’t know about Lowell High School, it is a selective public high school in San Francisco that requires excellent grades and high entrance test scores for admission. Like a number of similar schools such as Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, and Thomas Jefferson, it has been the target of lawsuits over its large Asian American population. Under Leong, Lowell has increased its reputation of its track team and put together a 14 year streak of San Francisco section championships for both the girls and boys teams. Lowell’s girls Distance Medley Relay team ran a nationally ranked time (3rd) at the 2015 Arcadia Invitational Track Meet.
Why has he had success at Lowell, particularly with distance runners? He says that so much of good distance running success comes from hard work. Lowell’s rigorous selection process brings in kids who are already accustomed to working hard. I have argued that cross country is perhaps one of the best sports choices for Asian Americans, and track is a natural extensions of that. Some people, Asian Americans included, think that athletic success and academic success are completely different, incompatible things. I think that the Lowell track teams success shows that they both come from the same base of hard work.
Leong’s own athletic career is interesting. Besides doing well in the San Francisco section during high school, he also ran in college. His coach was the legendary Harry Marra, coach of current decathlon record holder Ashton Eaton.
As Number One Son and Number Two Son both ran track and cross country, I have seen Andy Leong and his runners many times. They are as good as advertised, and some that he mentions, like John Hogan, were amazing. While there are other heavily Asian high schools with excellent track programs (Arcadia High School in Southern California comes to mind), I think Lowell’s success is notable because they don’t have a usable track and their school district has no interest in putting a new one in. To raise fund for running programs, Lowell hosts a cross country invitational. It’s one of my favorites to watch, taking place in Golden Gate Park. If you ever are around San Francisco in September, you might be able to catch the Lowell Invitational. If you do make it, try to buy some food or a T-Shirt – the proceeds will go to continue Andy Leong’s work.
(photo credit: ca.milesplit.com)