My wife and I had the extreme good fortune this past weekend to watch the 2011 Virginia AAA State Indoor Championships in Hampton VA. We weren’t there just as casual observers – my stepson, Jacob, had an amazing race at Regionals last weekend and qualified to run at State. He’s a junior at Thomas Jefferson, and has been running cross country and indoor and spring track for the past three years, but this indoor season was the first season he’s been (relatively) uninjured and able to compete anywhere near his potential. So Saturday, we headed down to Hampton – a three hour drive to see Jake run for 2.5 (actually 2:39.51!) minutes. Well worth the drive.
If you’ve never been to a high school track and field meet, I strongly encourage you to go – whether or not you have kids in school. Track and Field is among the “purest” of sports. There is no subjectivity. There are no style points. There is no human interpretation or judgment of form or performance. Whoever crosses the finish line first, whoever can jump the highest or farthest, whoever can throw the farthest – wins. Those young adults are simply beautiful to watch. The grace, the focus, the strength is amazing. It’s also absolute pandemonium – the venues are packed with athletes, spectators and officials -the noise of their combined voices is deafening. And the smell of nervous and athletic sweat permeates everything.
Some of my favorite vignettes:
Two young men, from different schools but obviously the closest of friends, hugging warmly before a race – knowing full well they’ll each do their very best to crush the other on the track.
The “game” faces on display just before the athletes move into their starting positions – the “1,000 yard stare,” the ritualistic shaking out of arms, shoulders, and legs, the final stretches, the tension in their bodies as the starter announces “Runners to your marks,” and the absolute explosion of their coiled bodies as the starting gun sounds.
The incredible fluidity as they power around the track – looking effortless until their “kick,” when the excruciating pain of the effort turns their faces into masks of pain.
Watching the pain and exhaustion on their faces as they cross the finish line being immediately replaced by smiles of exaltation as they look up and see the scoreboard displaying a personal record.
The hugging, chest bumping, and handslapping after crossing the finish line.
The unabashed tears and shrieks of joy of the African immigrant mother standing with us watching her daughter win her event and along with it the opportunity for a scholarship to college.
There were athletes from all over Virginia, all sporting their school’s colors. Many also wore T-shirts emblazoned with favorite expressions:
“Tradition never graduates.”
“I’m tripping on lactic acid.”
“My sport is your sport’s punishment.”
And my personal favorite: “Running won’t kill you – you’ll pass out from the pain first.”
I’ll end this month’s column with another appeal. There were other T-shirts on display – a handful of parents wearing shirts with a rather poignant message on them: “Support High School Track”. Many of you know indoor (winter) track has been on the chopping block for many Virginia counties in the recent past. If I’m not mistaken (I live in Arlington), Fairfax County recently cut freshman indoor track for the 2011 fiscal year. I appeal to all of you to write your local government and school representatives and let them know you support school athletics – for all grades.
In many cases, school athletics are the ONLY organized and funded sports programs in which some of our low-income youths can participate. There are many “club” teams for many of the other sports, e.g., soccer, lacrosse, basketball and gymnastics, but there are no “club” teams (to my knowledge) for track and field. For many of our “at risk” youth, school athletics are their ONLY outlet. If you’ve ever played sports, you know many of life’s lessons can be learned on the playing field. GEN Douglas McArthur is famously quoted as saying, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.”
My tulips and daffodils are coming up – is it spring now?