The Armory Foundation’s Bassett Thompson

Bassett began his track and field career as a PSAL meet director before joining The Armory in 2008 as an assistant manager and assumed his current position in 2011. A native of Jamaica, he also serves as the PSAL Commissioner of Cricket.

Bassett grew up in Jamaica where he attended Camperdown High School (known as the sprinter’s factory).  In Jamaica, the most popular students are often the ones on the track team and more students try out for track and field than any other sport. Bassett notes that track for him was a natural fit because he was always the fastest on any team he joined – except the track team. One year in high school he ran 100 meters in 10.4 seconds, but still did not make the 4×100 relay team.

In addition to running track Bassett also played cricket and soccer. He came to the U.S. and attended Franklin K. Lane High School in Brooklyn, and then Baruch College. To stay active in sports, he became a track/soccer/basketball coach in Elmont, Long Island where he lived. When his kids were old enough to choose a sport to specialize in they all chose track and Bassett then became a track official so he could be at every one of their meets. As an official, he officiated hundreds of meets, from youth to international ones, but officiating high school meets was one of his passions. He was eventually asked to be the Meet Director of the Public Schools Athletic League (the largest sport league in the U.S.) and then the Director of Track and Field at The Armory.

How has the landscape of youth sports changed since you grew up?

Growing up, track was just for fun and entertainment. Now many of the parents and coaches seem to be grooming their kids to be professionals. Today, equipment and coaching are very specialized and lots of money is spent trying to get the best equipment and coaching -– too many people think their children are going professional. Sport now has its own place in the economy. It’s no longer just about medals its now about income and financial security for athletes and their families.

However, there is a strong segment of high school track & field athletes that have a passion for the sport and intend to pursue it through high school or college with no aspirations of making it a career.  Many of these may continue to run, jump and throw afterwards as part of a balanced healthy lifestyle. For example, with more than 100 track and field meets each year at The Armory, we have more than 100,000 competitors at all levels.  Many of them experience tremendous gratification from the improvements they experience as a result of their practicing and learning proper technique. Most of the track and field meets at The Armory are for high school and youth athletes.  Some are school-related meets and others are open to any participant.

You have a long history working with and being a parent for track and field programs in NYC. Tell us about your background and experience.

I have coached several track teams in NYC and Long Island. I became a coach because my kids and other family members wanted to run track.  I realized that my knowledge of the sport was far deeper than current coaches, so I volunteered to be a coach and eventually I became the head coach. My first major success was winning the Hershey National 4×100 Championship (girls 13-14 years old). It was a double dose of sweetness because I got to experience it as a coach and parent (my daughter was on that team).

Working with the kids was a lot easier than working with the parents.  Many parents think their kids are the best and they should always be on the number one relay team and if they are not fast enough it’s the coaches’ fault. Several of my student/athletes received college scholarships. Chelsea Hammond, one of the athletes that I coached beginning in the 1stgrade took third place in the long jump in the 2008 Olympics.

How did you arrive at The Armory?

I was assistant manager and track official at The Armory (also Meet Director for the PSAL). One day Dr. Sander, the late founder of the non-profit Armory Foundation, called me over and said, “I just love the way you work with the student/athletes and you are one of the most respected officials that ever worked here. “Would you be interested in a promotion as The Director of Track and Field here at The Armory?”  I was able to get out of being the PSAL Meet Director with the understanding that I would remain with them (PSAL) in the spring/summer/Autumn.

Tell us more about The Armory’s youth track and field and other programs.

We have two after school programs for students in grades 2-8 who go to school or live in Washington Heights, Inwood and Harlem. CityTrack is designed for middle school students to learn and enhance their running, jumping and throwing skills.

Little Feet is for 2nd-5th graders and encourages them to have fun and enjoy movement through beginning track & field and related activities. “Run, giggle, and play On the Fastest Track in the World,” is our motto for the kids.  And, it is completely free to the participants and their families.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays afternoons, The Armory is awash with New York City high school athletes practicing.  It is a spectacular sight to see more then a thousand high school students all taking practice so seriously together. And, when youth are not practicing or competing at The Armory, we open up to adult and college athletes for training and fitness.  It is easy and not expensive to be a member of The Armory and we have training sessions every weekday from mid-November through mid-April.  On some days we open at 6:30am and close at 10pm to give a lot of training options.

In addition to City Track/Little Feet program we also run the Armory College Prep. If your HS team practices at The Armory, the free program is offered to the student/athletes. Since 2004, Armory College Prep (ACP) has supported over 1,000 students with the college admissions process. But our core mission emphasizes supporting our students to and through college.  The high school ACP program is unscreened, but also particularly rigorous.  In the last three years, 100% of the seniors were accepted four-year colleges and, on average, received grants and scholarships equal to 75% of their full four-year tuition and room and board.  We also have a middle school educational program for children in grades 5-8 who live or go to school in northern Manhattan.  Both of these programs are free for the children and their families.

The Armory runs some great camps for young runners. Tell us about them.

We have an advanced one-day track & field camp each fall and spring. The Armory brings in top high school and college coaches in each of the sport’s specialties. Given our unique relationship with professional athletes, we are able to add a dozen or more pros to coach the high school students throughout the day.  In mid-November, the camp will include numerous pro athletes who are current American record holders.  Sort of like spending a full day with LeBron James at a basketball camp alongside Doc Rivers. It is a great opportunity for NY-area track & field athletes.

Track & field is not thought of as an inner city sport.  Although you’re fortunate to count a world-class facility as your home, do you find yourselves competing with other sports that kids are maybe more interested in?

Yes, we are always competing with other sports, so we often have to sell the sport. My favorite line is “track gets you in shape for every other sport.” If you are fast you will be great on the basketball court, the baseball diamond, the football field, and the lacrosse field and even quick on the tennis court.

What does track & field offer kids that other sports do not?

In track if you are good you cannot hide, colleges/scouts will find you. If you are fast you are fast because the times do not lie and you don’t need a team to be good. Track & field is probably the most disciplined sport there is. Track and field gives kids the dedication they need to take them through life. Track and field athletes must be prepared at all times. One of my favorite track quote is: “If you fail to prepare be prepared to fail.”

What do you look for when you hire a coach to work with kids?

I look for coaches who have the passion and commitment to the development of the kids and the overall program (background is always checked).

You are also the PSAL’s Commissioner of Cricket. Is that a growing sport in NYC public schools? 

Cricket was introduced as a varsity sport in 2007. We started with 14 schools, now we are up to 38 schools. Yes, it is a growing sport in NYC.  We are still the only state in the country with cricket as a varsity sport.

What about your current position get you excited?

I get real excited about the NYRR Millrose Games, especially the youth portion.  I love the world’s fastest kid (8 and under), the 12 and under 400m dash and the 12 and under 4X200 M relay.

You must have lots of great stories from your years working with kids. Tell us about one that inspired you. 

One of my favorite stories happened when I was coaching my CYO track team. We needed a few more points to win the championship. I did not know where to get those points. Our teams usually do not take part in the field events (we never practiced it). I knew my daughter and my niece were great athletes so I called them over and told them, “we need 16 points to win the championship, only the long jump is left … I want you both try it.”  They looked at me and said, “But we don’t know how to do the long jump.” I taught them quickly and they came in first and second (18 points). Years later Chelsea Hammond (the one who came in first place) took third place in the Long Jump at the Olympics.

If you weren’t associated with sports what do you think you’d be doing?

In my “previous life” (before sports) I was an accountant. The sports Gods knew that sports is really what I was cut out for, and I was presented with these unbelievable sports jobs.

What is your most treasured sports possession? My Hall of Fame Ring. I was inducted in The Cricket Hall of Fame.

Best sports memory? My best sports memory is my daughter winning the long jump at the junior Olympics and winning the Hershey International Championship as part of the 4×100 meter relay. My personal memory is my high school winning the 4x100MR at The Penn Relays.

Favorite place you have competed? National Stadium …Kingston Jamaica

Favorite sports book? Sports Gene by David Epstein

Favorite sports movie? Million Dollar Arm

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