Ken Merrill

Riverview coach Kenneth Merrill

When students at the Riverview School find themselves struggling with self-confidence, technology teacher and coach Kenneth Merrill is there to give them a boost.

The Riverview School is on Route 6A in East Sandwich and is a private boarding and day school for students with special needs. Students at the school range in age from 11 to 22 and have complex language, learning and cognitive challenges.

“They come to us as defeated kids. They’ve been teased and they’ve been picked on,” he said. “Getting them on a team and feeling successful helps them to gain confidence, and they realize they can be good at this.”

Mr. Merrill is the school’s technology infusion specialist and after school he coaches track and cross-country. He has been with the East Sandwich school for seven years.

Growing up and going through the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School system, he said that he always wanted to become a teacher. As an athlete, he knew he wanted to become a coach as well.

When he began coaching at the school, the students would compete with middle school students, so that the competition would be evenly matched. However, the cross-country team has become so successful in competing against younger students that they have been running against high school teams since last year.

“We got there by giving them additional training,” Mr. Merrill said. “When I got there, there were middle school kids who were lapping them.”

He said that the cross-country team has now raced against D-Y and Barnstable.

“Some schools have been terrific,” he said of area high schools being willing to race against his team. “Some days work great, and some days the teams are not happy when we beat them.”

The team is not yet a part of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, so these meets are not weighted for the season. Mr. Merrill said that he is hoping the teams will become a part of the MIAA soon.

Even though they are not part of the MIAA, Cape Cod Academy invited the team to be its homecoming competition this year.

Mr. Merrill said that over the years he has seen a lot of students find confidence from being a part of the track and cross-country teams. One of those students is Alex Holder, a 19-year-old student who started at Riverview two years ago.

“He wasn’t a track guy,” Mr. Merrill said. “But before you knew it, he was beating high school kids at D-Y.”

Alex runs competitively in road races outside of school, as well.

Another student, Luke Anderson, 20, ran the Dennis Police Department’s 5K Halloween Hustle and came in first place out of 533 runners.

“You could barely keep him in the classroom,” Mr. Merrill said of Luke. “But he could keep his concentration when he was running.”

Overall, Mr. Merrill said that the work he puts into these students is all about helping them become confident in the things they do in life.

“For a lot of us we fail and get back up. Our guys are worried about everything that they do, because they fail so much,” he said. “It’s not about how fast they run, but it’s about the confidence they gain.”

Since the student-athletes are demonstrating their abilities in track and field, the school is beginning to develop a reputation beyond being a school for special needs students.

“It’s really cool to show that the kids can really do something,” Mr. Merrill said. “We’ve become a running school. We play soccer and we run.”

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