Familiar face at Meet of Champs
GOFFSTOWN — Regulars at the NHIAA Outdoor Track and Field Meet of Champions will see a familiar face around the starting line at Londonderry High School this afternoon. Al Halpern, the man who will be firing the starting the pistol today, worked his first outdoor state meet 40 years ago, and he hasn’t missed one since.
A semi-retired resident of Goffstown, Halpern, 65, will be back at the school where he was a full-time teacher and coach from 1974-2001. During that time, his teams won 25 NHIAA championships, the first in 1976 and the last during his final season of coaching.
“It was a nice way to go out,” he said of that final title.
As he does on the track by serving as an official, Halpern remains active in the classroom by working as a substitute teacher. Events such as today’s meet are especially enjoyable.
“I just love the sport, and I like working with the kids,” Halpern said.
He said he remembers not only the names of all the athletes he’s coached but also the years they ran for him. Runners he’s coached — as well as plenty he coached against — stop to greet him at meets. Some introduce him to their own children who are now running track.
“It’s just neat to see the next generation of those kids coming through,” he said.
One of his fondest coaching memories is of a 1990 class L track meet held at Londonderry High. Halpern’s team trailed until the final event, the 400-meter relay, in which the Londonderry anchor came from behind to win the race and give the Lancers the title by a half-point. People in the stands jumped out of their seats, and officials used a video to verify the finish because the entire meet hinged on the outcome of that race, Halpern recalled.
“It’s the only athletic photo I have on display in my home,” he said.
In his role as starter, Halpern is focused on making sure every runner gets a fair start and keeping the meet moving. But he still takes time to alleviate jitters at the starting line with a comment or a joke.
“Everything I’m doing is to make my job and their performance better,” he said.
Skills obtained in the sport benefit runners far beyond the track, Halpern said.
“In track, to be good as an athlete you’ve got to motivate yourself,” he said. “If you don’t, you’re not going to succeed.”
Halpern said he plans to continue officiating as long as he’s physically able, adding that he looks forward to the meets with as much enthusiasm as the athletes.
“I get the best seat in the house,” he said.