Crowley, Benedetto secure Zodiacs’ practice space

Zodiacs cross country runners display their medals at Van Cortlandt Park. Photo courtesy of Zodiacs

Until 2005, the Zodiacs fled cold weather to the crowded confines of Co-op City’s parking garage. That’s when the track team finally moved indoors.

But renting the Dreiser Loop Auditorium two days a week from November to March costs. Counting Truman High School’s warm weather track, the Zodiacs – aged six to 17 – pay $1,250 a year.

This year Congressman Joseph Crowley and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto footed the Zodiacs’ bill, after corresponding with the team’s president, Winston Dinkins.

“We’ve been around for 30 years,” Dinkins said. “And we rarely ask for anything. I must thank the Congressman and Assemblyman so much, especially with this financial crisis going on.”

The Zodiacs, an all-girls team through 2007, qualified nine athletes for the 2008 AAU Junior Olympics and 18 for the USATF Junior Olympics Cross Country Championship in Virginia.

“I have three priorities: seniors, veterans and children,” Benedetto said. “Services that go to those I try to fund whenever I can.

“The Zodiacs are a nice group of kids who are channeling their energies in a positive way. It’s good for the community. I wish I had more money to give them.”

Once upon a time, the Zodiacs set out cones in Co-op City’s parking garage to run laps and sprints. Dinkins and co-president Thomas Francis had parents keep the cars at bay. About 60 kids make up the team.

“The garage had these gaping holes, so the wind would come in like Alaska,” Francis said. “We did what we had to do – bundled our kids up to practice.”

Team members pay $30 dollars a month in dues, but that money evaporates quickly. According to Francis, the Zodiacs enter up to three meets each month. Each kids runs two races a meet at six dollars a pop. That’s $36.

“We fundraise,” Francis said. “We go out to public fairs to sell cake and cookies. W need to keep these kids out of the cold, bottom line.”

Three years ago, the Zodiacs scored a Tuesday/Thursday slot inside Co-op City’s Dreiser Loop Auditorium. It’s no track – Francis still has to set out cones. But the auditorium is warm and flat.

“Honestly, it’s the biggest spot we’ve been able to find,” Francis said. “We’re talking to Truman about using their gym because we need to practice on Wednesday as well.”

The Bronx lacks a single indoor track & field facility, although it boasts a slew of track clubs, Dinkins said. The Zodiacs once tried a top-notch track inside Harlem’s 168th Street Armory, but runners from across New York City jostle for room there.

“We need a building in the Bronx,” Dinkins said, suggesting the borough’s Kingsbridge Armory. “You have teams running up and down hallways. Our politicians need to get this done. There are enough clubs – a new facility it will pay for itself.”

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