When Benedictus Bago was first an athlete at Snyder High School, he was a soccer player.
So that’s why last week’s signing of a National Letter of Intent to attend the University of Massachusetts-Lowell to run track and field and cross country comes as somewhat of a surprise.
“No way did I think this was possible,” said Bago, who attends Innovation Academy inside of Snyder, but is able to compete for the school’s athletic teams. “It all started off as a joke. I was a soccer player my freshman year and someone said to me, ‘Hey, you look like you can run.’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ That’s how it all started. I didn’t believe any of this could happen. It’s really become a blessing for me.”
Bago was third in the recent Hudson County Track Coaches Association’s cross country championships and eighth in the overall NJSIAA Group III championships, earning a berth in the state Meet of Champions.
So Bago signed his scholarship letter and competed in the M of C in the same week.
“It’s been a pretty special week for me,” Bago said. “It was a great week for me, very productive.”
Bago became the first Snyder athlete to sign an NCAA Division I letter in ages and the first track and field athlete to sign since Isidro Pimentelsigned with Georgetown in 1995.
“It’s a really great thing,” Bago said. “I went to the school for an unofficial visit and knew that it was the place for me. It was a good environment and a great fit for me.”
Bago, who is an excellent student, maintaining a 3.4 grade point average, considered other schools like Santa Clara, Temple and Monmouth, but UMass-Lowell was perfect. He plans on majoring in biology with the hope of one day becoming a pediatrician.
“I’m very blessed and excited,” Bago said. “Once I started running full time, one of my biggest goals was to get a scholarship. I liked this school because I know that 70 percent of the graduates from the biology program get accepted into medical school. That’s a really good percentage.”
Bago said that UMass-Lowell is trying hard to establish a solid track and field and cross country program.
“I couldn’t miss the opportunity to be a part of it all,” Bago said. “I think it’s a program where they’re going to allow me to grow. I need that. I’ve only been running for a short time, so I need some place where I can grow.”
Bago was pleased to be able to share the moment with his family, as well as school officials from both Innovation Academy and Snyder, as well as his coach Isaiah Thomas.
“Coach Isaiah was very helpful in getting the word out,” Bago said. “I thank all of my coaches over the years. They all helped me. It’s been amazing. I never thought running would turn into such a great thing.”
And Bago is pleased to know that he will be forever etched in the Snyder history books as an NCAA Division I scholarship recipient.
“It’s good that I will be remembered for something like this,” Bago said. “It’s nothing but a great feeling.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com