Proposal to rename new Baldwin track after Joseph Scannell


While driving past the construction of the new Baldwin High School Athletic Complex, Merrill Scannell conceived the idea of naming the new track after her late husband Joseph, an alumnus and former elected official, who once ran the course as a student.

“I am writing with a heartfelt request regarding the naming of the new Baldwin High School track with hopes of honoring a man who has made significant contributions to our school, our community and our (Nassau) County,” Scannell, a Baldwin native and graduate of the school, wrote in a March 5 letter to the school board. “My family and I urge the School Board to consider naming this new track after one of our distinguished alumni.”

The Herald attempted to contact the school district’s clerk seeking comment on the proposal but was unsuccessful as of press time.

Joseph Scannell died of Huntington’s disease in 2022 at the age of 59.

Residents passed a $16.1 million proposition during last year’s budget vote, giving the school district the green light to use the capital reserve fund to build a state-of-the-art synthetic turf field, along with a brand new grandstand, press box and track and field. The project’s completion is expected sometime this spring.

In the letter, Merrill Scannell emphasized that naming the track after her late husband would not only pay tribute to the athlete, but also recognize his impact on the community. He was elected to the Nassau County Legislature in 1999, representing the Fifth Legislative District, which covers Baldwin, along with parts of Freeport and Rockville Centre. He served seven terms before deciding not to seek reelection in 2013.

As a high school athlete, Joseph Scannell pursued gymnastics in 1978 but eventually transitioned to cross-country the following year, he excelled as the winter and spring track team captain. He gained recognition by clinching first place in the Nassau County Cross-Country Championships in November 1979, clocking in at 15:58.

A Nov. 4, 1979 Newsday article lauded the first-place finish with the headline, “Baldwin’s ‘Joe Who’ Pulls Upset.”

“He was so excited,” Merrill Scannell said, recalling how he felt. “He had no idea there was an article being written.”

Merrill, too, participated in track and field. The couple met on the high school track team and started dating in the same year.

After high school, he attended C.W. Post College, which is now Long Island University, and earned a law degree from St. John’s University.

Making his debut in public service, he began as an assistant district attorney in Nassau County in 1989 before running for County Legislature as a Democrat. He advocated for community safety, often working with the police, fire and EMS communities to ensure they had the necessary tools and resources.

Brittney Scannell, Joseph’s daughter, wrote to the Herald that she never ran track in high school. But it wasn’t until after her father passed away that she found a passion for it.

“Running became a way for me to feel closer to my dad,” she wrote. “When I think about how this May I’m running my first marathon, my first thought is how proud he would be and how it would be something we both loved.”

Along with Brittney, Joseph was the father of Brian Scannell.

“Renaming the track in his honor is about remembering the spirit of resilience and passion that defined his life and continues to inspire us all,” she added. “For my father, for my family, and for the countless lives he touched, naming the track after him would be the ultimate tribute, a testament to his enduring legacy and the enduring power of running to unite us all.”

Merrill Scannell said she believes that his achievements at Baldwin High School, his representation of the Baldwin community, and his service as a county legislator exemplify his deep commitment to his hometown and its people.

Baldwin firefighter Jerry Brown agreed. 

“It would be most appropriate,” Brown said. “He started at Baldwin High School and ended up in politics. He advocated for Baldwin and defended it.”