Go hard or go home: In the weight room with the Saugerties Sawyers

Drew Carpino, in hat, works with an athlete lifting weights, while other athletes work out in the school’s weight room. (photo by Robert Ford)

They call it “Sawyer Strength.” It’s the slogan on a tee shirt that students at Saugerties High School have to earn.

The brainchild of high school social studies teacher and strength coach Drew Carpino began two years ago. District athletic director Dom Zarrella credits it with making the program’s members better athletes and better students.

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Jacob Browe echoed the sentiment. Pnce described as an at-risk student, in a recent visit to the weight room he talked about being someone who didn’t like school, whose grades were terrible, and who was a student in trouble.

“I started to talk with coach Carpino,” Browe says. The two talked about life, about football, about the importance of an education, and about life in the weight room. “I started coming to the weight room to take part in the program, found a love for football, which motivated me to go to class, to study and work out.”

Browe’s grades are up. He goes to class regularly. In the fall will be the starting wide receiver for the Sawyers. “I worked hard to get here,” the young man says.

“It’s just great how Drew motivates the students, to do better, to be better,” Zarrella said.

Carpino is a graduate of Kingston High School, where he played football and other sports. He found his love for teaching while a student at the University of Albany, where he tutored athletes in history and found that he could motivate them to do better.

After graduation, he took at job at the Children’s Home in Kingston. It was there that Carpino’s career took off. “I ran a small boxing program, and athletic program,” he says. “I’d take some of the kids over to the gym, where they learned boxing from Billy Costello.” Costello was the light welterweight champion of the world.

Carpino also worked as a personal trainer at Mike Arteaga’s Health and Fitness Center in Poughkeepsie.

He is also a buddy of Mike Pugliese, the varsity baseball coach at Saugerties High School.

Using what he learned while at the University of Albany, as a fitness trainer, and working with troubled youth at the Children’s Home, Carpino began to put together the idea of Sawyer Strength, a fitness program for not only athletes at Saugerties High School but for all students at the school. The program stresses not only strength in fitness but also strength in the classroom.

“He’s changed the culture of our sports programs, through he enthusiasm, and his organizational skills,” Zarrella says. “We’ve never had this many kids in the weight room.” Zarrella pointed to the more than 30 kids working out in the high school’s weight room, talking and taking their time in school seriously.

High School senior James Ball, who plays football, wrestles and plays on the school’s baseball team, says the program has helped transform him as an athlete. Ball was the leading rusher for the high school team, and one of the best wrestlers on the wrestling team.

“I’m here all the time,” he says.

Brandon Salmi, one of the team’s outstanding linemen on offense, said the program turned him from a 240-pound, out-of-shape player into a muscled 285-pound lineman.

“We’ve seen a positive growth in all our athletes,” Zarrella said.

The girls on the Lady Sawyer softball team were so interested in the program that they are now in the weight room at 6 a.m. every day, Carpino said.

“This program and coach Carpino have just made our athletes that much better on the field and in the classroom,” Zarrella said.

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