Short Strides and Odd Thoughts: Through My Eyes

As many of you know that along with my coaching duties as the Mascenic Cross Country and Track & Field coach, I also wear the hat of an official, doing my part to make the divisional championships and MOCs run smoothly.  My job over the last couple days as the “hipping” clerk had me under the tent in the infield, checking uniforms and batons, matching name with heat and lane, distributing stickers and some last minute instruction.  Some of these interactions are great, congratulating them on races already run, short conversations about what’s ahead for them, sometimes within the meet and sometimes about what’s down the road.  Some of the interactions are not so great, like when I need to tell them their uniform is out of compliance and they think I’m exacting punishment on them rather than trying to help them.  I’ve always enjoyed helping the athletes and the meet be better.  But what it often means is I never get to see my own athletes doing their thing.

That became very apparent this year.  While we say we keep the infield clear for competing athletes and the coaches that go with them, this year everyone and their mother was on the infield, obfuscating my view and adding to the general chaos.  Sitting right in front of the end of the jav vector, I thought I’d get to see my assistant principal’s kid throw his monster 190 foot toss, but due to handing out hip numbers and the general crowd presence, I did not.  This means while I get to experience a lot about these meets, I often see little, stealing some quick views, not always at the best moments.  This was true this year as my daughter would be running her last two races as a high schooler, meaning her athletic career beyond road racing and hitting the trails is drawing to an end, and I would miss both of those.  Three days past, it got me thinking.

Over the past twenty five years, I’ve seen quite a bit through the eyes first of a newbie coach, then a bit more veteran, then an event official, and now as my final days as a coach.  And while I don’t see much of the racing under my tent, I do get an inside look on what’s going on in the sport.  Things I got to see this past week include a gentleman from Bishop Brady run a time under the state record in the 100, similar scenarios in the 110 hurdles and the 400, some monster throws in javelin, not to mention some down to the wire finishes that were both thrilling and awe inspiring.

Unfortunately I’ve also missed some pretty good things as well.  The mile is the worst.  Due to the fact that we have 32 4×100 relay teams trying to check in all at once, with many of those athletes just coming off the 100 or hurdle events, under the is extreme chaos in trying to get those athletes hipped and out to their zones.  Which means when you have a decent amount of milers, you miss a decent amount of your kids events.  In one particular instance it led to a somewhat comical conversation with one of my milers who I happened to run into immediately after he crossed the line.  Not seeing one meter of that race I asked how how it went  and this is the following exchange,  “How’d it go? I came in last?” 

“Well how was your race?” I replied.

“I fell.”

” You fell?”

“Yeah, twice.” 

“You fell twice?”

“Yeah.” “


Now that might sound cruel but exactly what do you say to an athlete, a freshman, who gets tripped up twice in a single race?  To be fair I did follow that commentary up with the fact he’d never have to worry about that scenario again.  In the end that athlete went onto a fantastic career in the sport and I was right in that it never happened again.  Also it turns out he and some teammates now have a state title in 4×800 and were able to compete at New Englands.

Another time I was able to witness my top two milers both win a rain date changed Sunday meet by simply destroying the field over the second half of the race, winning by huge margins.  One of them had raced the event in the previous year’s meet under sweltering conditions, leading for seven and a quarter laps and then having six girls run past.  Determined not to have that happen, she went out right at 6 minute pace and turned the screw over the second half, dropping the field and winning by 21 seconds. In the other race, my athlete was the top returner, but was only seeded five or so seconds ahead of the #2 seed.  Having had some great training going into the race, he simply cranked up the intensity over each lap leaving second place 19 seconds in arrears.

Another year I had this one kid going in as the fourth seed but had a great run up to the championships, running a 4:26 mile as a true two miler.  No one seemed to notice at the seeding meeting when the top seed in the mile, which he was, scratched from that event to run the two mile, or that he had run his seed time midway through the season.  With the other athletes doubling and tripling in search of team points, the three higher seeded athletes had no interested in taking the pace out.  When he  realized they were going just slower than ten minute pace at 200, he immediately dropped the pace to 9:30 pace, gapping the field hard.  By the time the field realized the fourth seed was not coming back it was too late.  Jake won by 31 seconds.

So I’ve seen a lot of great things, and not all of them included competing.  I’ve seen fierce rivals congratulating each other, on display Thursday night as Trinity’s Nehemiah Oyaronbi gave Josh Gentchos the biggest bear hug after getting beaten by him in a historically fast race.  I’ve seen the competitors mob a high jumper after they’ve achieved a record height.  I’ve seen athletes go at it for eight laps, exhausted through their effort, jogging the school fields ten minutes later to get their cool down in.  Like I said, I’ve seen a lot of great things, human things.

I’ve also seen a lot of great things over the years, as a coach, as a state track committee member, and as an official.  We’ve come a long way in a quest for equity across divisions.  Rather than more entries allotted to larger divisions, now each division gets three automatic bids from the divisional championships and we fill the field with the next best performances on the year.  For good or for bad we’ve gone to FAT times for qualification purposes, meaning a lot less subjectivity in the thumbs of volunteer timers.  Not to mention the advent of NHT&F and what that has meant for the distribution and availability of performances of our track and field athletes across the state and beyond.  Over these twenty five years, we’ve elevated the state of track and field in NH and that’s a good thing.

I hope and expect I’ll continue seeing great performances, both athletically and humanistically in the future.  I’ll excitedly be track side watching curiously to what the next great and awesome performance will be.  But I’ll be seeing them as a spectator from now on, happy to step away from both the organizational side of things and pandemonium that is under the clerk’s tent.  It will be quite different, but in the same vein as the twenty five years I’ve been at it, with no dog in the fight, I’ll still be able to revel in great performances like I have over all those years.  

And I’m going to relish it.  See you out there.

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