Monday Musing for 1.27.20
When I was in high school, I was part of something special. Our cross country team won the state championship all four years. 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1972.
That’s a long time ago. I thought that accomplishment had long since been forgotten. Then last year our coach, Bob Nelson was inducted into the Madras Athletic Hall of Fame. Coach Nelson, by the way had Nampa roots. And his wife was the former Elizabeth Keim also from Nampa. (I know they are related in some way to the current Nampa High football coach, Dan Holtry.)
Last November I got the call that all four of those championship teams were being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. Since I was the only one on all four teams, I was asked to give the acceptance speech. The ceremony was Friday night.
I’ve been having fun going through old newspaper clippings and web archives, reconstructing my memories of those years. Coach Nelson was honored posthumously last year. In addition, I knew that three of my teammates had died.
I was right about two of them. But imagine my surprise, when the third, Lyle Rhoan showed up Friday night! It was really good to see him. As Mark Twain said, reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated.
My teammates traveled from as far away as Colorado. There was a dinner in our honor, then we were introduced at halftime of a basketball game, and finally the induction ceremony. Then the conversations continued. It was a late evening. Especially for Harper, my almost two-year-old granddaughter. Counting her, there were ten family members there for me.
Distance running is an individual sport. It’s you against your own physical and mental limits. But cross country is a team sport. It is scored by taking the place finishes of your top five runners and adding them together. Like golf, low score wins. So the best score possible is 15 (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5). However, if your fifth runner is near the back of the pack, it doesn’t matter how well your faster runners do. You will lose.
It’s the proverbial, “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.” One of the great things that I was a part of all those years was stronger runners encouraging weaker ones. And over and over, runners improved. Often remarkably so. I learned back then an important lesson. You surround yourself with people better than you are, and you will get better.
We had one individual champion, Dan Miller. He won the cross country state meet in 1971. I never came close to Dan, except once. We reminisced Friday night about the two-mile race during track season (1972) when we knew we were the two fastest runners and we agreed in advance to tie. I would pass him and then he would pass me, over and over for those eight laps. It must have looked like an epic duel as we sprinted side by side to the finish line. As we locked arms and broke the tape together, it must have been an anti-climax for the spectators.
Dan was the first to greet me Friday night. It was a bit strange. He said, “I heard you had died.” I guess he got the same false information about me that I got about Lyle Rhoan. Then when we parted he said, “I’m glad you’re not dead.” I answered, “You’re not nearly as glad as I am!”