On the field, the 17-year-old is poised — he runs with confidence and carefully placed steps.
On the stage, he says he doesn’t get jitters — singing comes naturally, whether he’s performing at school or in his car.
At St. Anthony’s, a Roman Catholic college preparatory school in South Huntington, you can find Payamps dressed head to toe in a clean-cut ensemble. The mandatory uniform for the junior and senior boys: a white collared shirt, gold tie, black sweater vest, blazer, pants and black lace-up shoes. The girls wear similar white button-ups and dark blazers, but with gray skirts and tights.
What sets the students of St. Anthony’s apart from one another are their lapels — they can express individual interests through pins on their blazers. The pins can be from campus clubs or groups that they’re in, or they can bring in other buttons and badges to wear, as long as they’re appropriate for school.
Payamps has four pins on his blazer. The first represents his involvement in the campus ministry. The decision to attend St. Anthony’s was a very personal one for Payamps. He lives in West Hempstead and went through elementary and middle school in that district with his older brother, Alex.
Alex went on to attend West Hempstead High School, but Payamps said that after eighth grade, he wanted to pursue a different path.
‘I wanted to strengthen my faith. As a kid I was Catholic… but I didn’t really know too much about it.’ -Matthew Payamps
“I wanted to strengthen my faith,” he said. “As a kid, I was Catholic, and I guess that’s what I’ve been around mostly, but I didn’t really know too much about it."
Payamps’ father is from the Dominican Republic and his mother is from Paraguay. Growing up, they said a lot of prayers together in Spanish, he says.
“I thought coming to a Catholic school, I’ll be able to learn about it and experience different things that I probably wouldn’t have been able to at a public school.”
The second pin, a small winged foot, was given to him in middle school for being on the track team. He says at first he only took up running to stay in shape for baseball and basketball season. But then he fell in love with the rush and wound up running track full time.
“I feel like with running, as much as you put into it is as much as you’re going to get out of it,” he said. “If you’re going to train hard, you’re going to get results and I think that’s a great way to look at your sport and life as well.”
Payamps’ work has paid off — he’s one of the top runners on Long Island and is ranked 24th in the state as of November, according to speed ratings on tullyrunners.com, which provides information and analysis about New York State runners. He also recently won the Catholic High School Athletic Association intersectional cross-country championship.
“I couldn’t imagine representing another school on my chest,” Payamps said.
Another pin on his blazer and a point of pride for Payamps is the National Honor Society. As a senior with a 99.29 percent weighted GPA, he remembers the first day of his freshman year with a knowing grin — going from public to private school, he wasn’t sure what to expect.
“During the homeroom prayer, I had no idea what was going on,” he remembered. “I heard Brother Vincent [on the loudspeaker] who actually does the prayer every morning… and I had no idea what to do.”
Now, Payamps welcomes incoming freshmen as part of a club called Friar Faithful. “That’s a big part of our faith,” he said, “being open to new people.”
‘I definitely think [my spirituality is] growing on me as I go along.’ -Matthew Payamps
The final pin on his blazer signifies the Gregorian Schola — St. Anthony’s advanced choir, made up of 60 juniors and seniors.
“I think a lot of people think that I’m a runner and they know me for that and they think, ‘Oh Matt, he runs,’” he said.
“But I think if people knew what I like to listen to or that my favorite artist is Michael Jackson… I don’t know, I think that’s a fun fact about me and what I like to do.”
Payamps, a tenor, says his favorite place to sing is his car. The roughly 45-minute drive from West Hempstead to South Huntington provides plenty of performance time. “I can just yelp out whenever and as loud as I want, so it’s fun,” he said.
Looking back, the commute was worth it for Payamps. “I definitely think [my spirituality is] growing on me as I go along — I guess as I went along through St. Anthony’s,” he said.
His next uniform will have “Georgetown University” across his chest. Payamps is looking forward to running track and learning more about the Catholic faith while attending the Jesuit college in Washington, D.C., next fall.
‘As time goes along you get used to it and realize: I go to St. Anthony’s, this is what I have to wear, and be proud of that.’ -Matthew Payamps
But every day until then, whether he’s at school or around his community in West Hempstead, he feels good with the man in the mirror.
“I don’t feel too different having my uniform on around other people in West Hempstead,” he said. “As a freshman, I think that maybe it might feel a little uncomfortable, but I think just as time goes along you get used to it and realize: I go to St. Anthony’s, this is what I have to wear, and be proud of that.”