On Friday night, our Ignatius frosh soph track team won the Chicago Catholic League Frosh Soph Outdoor Championship meet with 132.5 points to defeat second place Providence (101 points) and eleven other CCL teams.
Granted, this is just a frosh soph championship. But at Ignatius, we don’t win many Catholic League championships at any level.
Tracing my frosh soph teams at Saint Ignatius over the last nine years probably provides the most interesting and most telling picture of my career and development as a track coach—and the development of our program.
I actually date my debut as a head coach to the Chicago Catholic League Frosh Soph Championships in May of 2004. That season I was actually an assistant coach, in charge of the distance runners. But our first year head coach Daryl Hobson had a baby that week, and he went on family leave. I was basically left on my own to coach a group of 20 or so freshmen and sophomores and another 15 juniors and seniors for the last three weeks of the season.
At the Frosh Soph CCL meet, I remember running around the track that night at St. Laurence coaching with a new energy. I encouraged, helped, and corrected. I was apparently only vaguely aware of how the meet was developing. At the end of the night I went to the press box to retrieve the results and our awards. I have told this story to my teams many times. Coach Terry Murphy of St. Laurence handed me our bag. I looked inside and saw just one green ribbon for our night’s work. We had scored four points.
I was crestfallen.
When I tell that story today, though, I can give it a happy ending. Two years later we returned to that same track and we won the meet. In fact, from 2006-2008 we won five Catholic League frosh soph championship meets in a row, counting the indoor and outdoor meets.
But there is another twist to that story: Those frosh soph championship teams never developed into teams that could win the varsity level meets. In fact, we never really even got close to winning a varsity CCL meet.
One rationalization for why we could win at the frosh soph level but not at the varsity level would be that it fits the culture of our school. Ignatius is not a sports power. Our frosh soph boys grow up, but it might be argued that they do not grow up to be quite as big and strong as the boys from Loyola, Brother Rice, and Providence, to name three schools that have powerhouse CCL football teams. A second argument would go this way: Our athletes really only work hard enough to have an initial kind of success. They aren’t willing to make the commitment to doing what they need to do to have success at the varsity level.
Finally, though, the finger might be pointed directly at me. Somehow I did not do what we needed to do to turn those successful frosh soph teams into successful varsity teams.
In the years that followed, perhaps, I have improved my coaching, working harder to move our team from point B to point C. Two falls ago our boys cross country team won the CCL championship and then qualified for the state cross country meet for the first time in thirty years or so. That team grew from a successful team of frosh soph boys, improving each year.
Last year, our frosh soph track team once again won the CCL frosh soph outdoor meet. That team had a strong group of sophomores in what is usually a sophomore dominated meet. But we also had a strong group of freshmen who, in fact, carried the team.
In March, those same boys—now sophomores and juniors– won the CCL indoor varsity meet.
We will bring many of the sophomores who won that frosh soph meet last week to the CCL varsity championship meet on Saturday at Loyola Academy. As the indoor champions, we might be considered favorites at the meet. But the outdoor meet is a little bit different than the indoor meet, with a second throws event—not a strength of our team—and a second hurdles race (actually, that works for us). There is also an additional sprint relay—another event that is not our strength. It will be fun to be a favorite, but we have a few injuries to some key performers, and we might not be able to pull off another victory.
With our strong group of sophomores, though, we already have big hopes for next year.
And we will hope next week that this young team will surprise everyone again.