NEW HAVEN – On one side stands the prodigy. Danae Rivers, as a sophomore for the Wilbur Cross girls’ indoor and outdoor track teams, is already the top middle-distance runner in the state and one of the best in the country.
On the other side is the former prodigy, though Arkeel Newsome is by no means a finished product yet. But after bursting onto the scene two years ago, the Ansonia running back completed perhaps the most remarkable career of a Connecticut high school athlete last fall.
The two posed next to each other Thursday night at Amarante’s Sea Cliff as the Register’s Female and Male Athletes of the Year; Rivers the first sophomore to win the honor; Newsome one of the most decorated. Together, they personify what can happen when talent mixes with commitment to continued improvement.
Newsome set the bar rather high for himself as a sophomore, establishing a new single-season state rushing record.
The numbers dipped slightly as a junior, if only for what was to come. As a senior, he broke his own single-season record, shattered the state career mark by 2,000 yards and won yet another state championship.
“To be in the position he was, with so much success early on, and then to continue to get better was such a credit to him,” said Ansonia football coach Tom Brockett. “You can’t do that without being humble. People have always tried to knock him, and here he is four years later going off to play Division I-A football on a full scholarship. He’s done everything he had to do, and we couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Ansonia has been churning out great running backs since 1937, when Bubby Natowich became the town’s first all-state selection. Newsome is the latest; probably the greatest. Natowich rode his talent all the way to the Philadelphia Eagles. How far Newsome gets remains to be seen, but the next stop on his journey is UConn.
“I’ve always dreamed of a getting a college scholarship,” Newsome says. “It was a matter of staying level-headed and keeping my eyes on the prize.”
Newsome heads to Storrs this weekend to begin his college career at 186 pounds, Brockett says, nearly 20 pounds heavier than he was last fall thanks to his commitment to the weight room.
Rivers has two more years remaining in her high school career, and the groundwork is in place for a college opportunity.
Highlights from the past season were victories in the 800-meter run (2:14.40) and a state-record in the 1,600 (4:47.45), while anchoring the winning 4×400-meter relay team at the State Open earlier this month.
During the indoor season she led the Governors to their first Class LL team championship in 10 years, the State Open champ in the 1,600 and the New England Open champ in the mile.
When not at the track, she volunteers at local food banks and senior centers, is a member of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and plays flute for the Nspyre Youth Orchestra.
Oh yeah. Her grade-point average is 4.36.
“The whole team has been in awe of her the last two years,” said Nally Sahin, the girls’ outdoor track coach at Wilbur Cross. “She’s a reason why our numbers have increased as well.”
When Sahin took the job five years ago, around 25 girls came out for the team. This spring there were 80, so many she had to trim the roster down to 62. In terms of sheer numbers it was the largest team sport in New Haven this year, Sahin says. Even larger than football.
“She’s a big part of that,” Sahin said. “I think she’s brought the light to the program and helped bring it to another level with that push we needed. It was on the upswing when I took over, but with her, the last two years, she’s pushed us over the edge.”
Her talent, even in middle school, was well-known throughout the city. Her father, David, was a middle distance runner at the University of New Haven in the late 1980s. With additional guidance from her mother, Andrea, Danae’s path to success started early in New Haven’s youth track feeder program.
By age 10, she was a Junior Olympic national champion. At 12, she’d broken two national records in her age division.
Travis Gale, coach of cross country and indoor track, was an assistant two years ago when rumor spread that a potential star was on her way to Wilbur Cross. He soon found Rivers wasn’t merely a great talent, but humble and determined to improve.
“She’s always in a good mood, is willing to listen and learn because she wants to be successful in everything she does,” Gale said. “She wants to be a great athlete, a great student, a great sister and a great daughter. Overall, she is genuinely a great person. Whatever she does in future, she will be successful.”
When the photos, handshakes and congratulations were finished, Rivers and Newsome bid their goodbyes and went in their own direction. One high school legacy complete; another with two chapters to be written; both still determined to make themselves better.
New Haven Register Athletes of the Year
Pierre Venditti (Law)
Diane Potkay (Derby)
Steve Coughlin (Ansonia)
Lisa Barbaro (Morgan)
Mike O’Keefe (Notre Dame-WH)
Lisa Barbaro (Morgan)
Peter Fink (Haddam-Killingworth)
Sarah Katinger (Bunnell)
Adam Greenberg (Guilford)
Nicholette Chambers (Hillhouse)
Chris Tracz (North Branford)
Megan Miller (Law)
Glenn McFadden (Hillhouse)
Jenn Piazza (Lyman Hall)
Brian Mariano (Naugatuck)
Emily Hardy (Westbrook)
Randy Gress (Notre Dame-Fairfield)
Melissa McGow (Branford)
Mike Tamsin (Branford)
Brittney Carfora (Branford)
Craig Kenney (Branford)
Natasha Harvey (Career)
James Nixon (Hyde)
Kristen Frost (Hand)
Terrell Wilks (Hillhouse)
Katie Yanagisawa (Amity)
Rob Moir (Seymour)
Ann-Marie Clarke (Hillhouse)
Jeremy Moore (Hillhouse)
Allison Barwise (Amity)
Conor Keniry (Notre Dame-WH)
Courtney Schissler (Branford)
Pat Gillen (Shelton)
Sage Esposito (Foran)
Jake Scinto (Cheshire)
Bria Holmes (Hillhouse)
Andre Anderson (Hillhouse)
Precious Holmes (Hillhouse)
Arkeel Newsome (Ansonia)
Danae Rivers (Wilbur Cross)