DERUYTER — “Grab a lane, knuckleheads.”
The immortal friendly words of legendary DeRuyter Rockets track and field coach Stephen Camelbeek now have a new meaning to the athletes on the team he loved so much — they can finally grab a lane at their very own track.
The Rockets held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday to christen the new track and field facility at DeRuyter High dedicated to Coach Camelbeek, where his widow Sandy and daughters Carol, Barbara, Jennifer, Karen and Eileen were in attendance, along with DeRuyter Schools Superintendent Dr. David Brown, about 30 members of the DeRuyter community, and some former DeRuyter track athletes.
After speeches by Dr. Brown and Barbara Camelbeek, the Camelbeeks cut the ribbon and attendees were invited to take a walk around the track.
Coach Camelbeek, who retired from full-time teaching in 2010 and died in 2013, taught physical education and agriculture and coached track and field at DeRuyter from 1970 to 2013 and also served as athletic director. All that time, and up until Monday, the Rockets track team never had their own facility.
The newly installed track is miles ahead of where they used to train in terms of comfort and aesthetics.
“They would train on blacktop,” Sandy Camelbeek said. “Hurdles measured out and ran in parking lot. He tied tires around athletes and they ran across the front yard of the school. He made the best use of what he had. He always improvised and he loved his kids. We couldn’t have home meets. Just away.”
Coach Camelbeek’s tenure included multiple conference championships and state meet qualifiers, including two of his own grandchildren. But his ultimate goal was to see a track and field facility of DeRuyter’s own.
“Upon Stephen’s passing, his five daughters made it their mission to make his dream a reality,” Sandy Camelbeek said. “They started the SWC Fitness and Rec Fund and started an annual fitness run in June on graduation weekend, the Tie the Legacy 5K.”
The fund gained financial support from fundraisers, booths at the DeRuyter Fair, Coach Camelbeek’s former athletes and companies like Texas Roadhouse. Ultimately, the Camelbeeks needed to clear one last financial hurdle – the DeRuyter school board.
After years of deliberation and a town vote which gained over 70 percent support, the project was greenlit, and Coach Camelbeek’s dream became a reality. The Camelbeek family was overcome with emotion at the ceremony with nary a dry eye in sight.
“I cannot express my feelings in words as tears just flowed with happiness,” Sandy Camelbeek said. “It is a proud moment and I am overwhelmed at the support that this special school and community has provided. Actually walking on this beautiful state of the art track with Coach C at my side and the sun shining along with five of our daughters made me so happy and proud to live in this town.”
Coach Camelbeek was a member of St. Lawrence Parish, and Sandy said “his faith was first on his priorities along with family and fitness.” He also spent time as a basketball referee and coach and was a volunteer fireman beginning in the early 1970s.
When asked what Coach Camelbeek would say if he were there to witness the ceremony, Sandy said “he would say ‘Tie up those shoes and get moving. We now have our track and I am with each of you.’”
For more information on Coach Camelbeek, the SWC Fitness and Rec Fund and the Tie the Legacy 5K, visit stephenwcamelbeekfitnessandrecfund.org.