A track adventure in DC

imageOur Saint Ignatius boys track team is on its way to Washington, DC, high over Ohio or somewhere east of Chicago.

So far so good. We’re on the plane, getting off just before the snow hit Chicago this evening. We had a few anxious moments. We didn’t get off in the bus after school until 3:35; our flight was leaving O’Hare at 6:05. Still plenty of time, it would seem, but every time traffic slowed on the Kennedy it gave me a moment of pause.

Getting boarding passes for our group of 30 wasn’t so difficult. We did wonder what the TSA staff were going to say about the track spikes the boys carried in their bags. We told them carry-on bags only. We weren’t going to check anything. But the TSA didn’t seem to bat an eye at the shoes.

So we were at the gate B6 in the United Terminal by 5:00, with enough time for the boys to find some fast food and then be ready to board the flight at 6:05.

We’re on our way with 21 of our athletes to Washington, DC and Reagan National, where tomorrow evening we will run at the Georgetown Preparatory School’s Jesuit Invitational indoor track meet. This is a first ever event for our team–a meet where we fly to the destination.

We’ve known about the event for a number of years, with annual invitations by email. A few times I’ve emailed back, “Maybe some day, you never know.”

Last summer I was contacted by a group of Ignatius alumni from the class of 1951. This was a group that won several city cross country championships during their high school career, with a bunch of track titles, too. Key members of that old team–and the new team that contacted me–included Tom Coyne, a retired administrator and former vice president at Western Michigan University, and Ray Mayer, who, after a decorated Army career, had a successful career in real estate working in the Northern Virginia and DC area.

They wanted to do something for the team, their emails told me. Our Ignatius development staff asked me to compile some ideas of things we might need and things we might want. The suggestion from Ray Mayer, in particular, had been to send the team on a trip to run somewhere. Where would we want to go?

Our list included a timing clock for the finish line of our track and cross country home meets, a fully automated timing system, some construction work on our track, and because our cross country schedule was pretty settled and full–and we had a weekend free for our track team in February–I added the possibility of taking the team to the Georgetown Prep Jesuit Invite.

While the group of 1951 runners seemed inclined to pursue a project that would have a long-standing impact, Ray Mayer asked me to call him on the phone last September and he offered to bring the team to DC, where he hoped he would be able to watch them run.

So our trip today has been six months in the making. Ray sent a check to the school to cover the airfare and hotel costs. The United Airlines group desk booked our flights. Greg Dunston, the track coach at Georgetown Prep, answered dozens of emails about questions large and small.

We announced the trip to the boys back in December, making it clear that only about 20 of the 70 boys on our team would travel. The qualifying standards were pretty simple. Based on last year’s meet results, we would bring boys who might have a chance to score points for us in the meet.

The names of the boys were due at United Airlines in mid-January, before we had even run a meet. I made some good guesses about who would be ready to run in February, and then after our first couple indoor meets, we made some hard decisions for the final roster spots. It was hard to tell some boys that they could not make the trip.

Tonight we check in at the hotel and get a good night’s sleep. We had planned to take the Metro north to the hotel, outside DC in Gaithersburg, near Georgetown Prep’s Bethesda, MD campus. Greg Dunston came through at the last minute and arranged to pick us up by bus at the airport, saving us a long subway ride.

Tomorrow we have a morning college visit scheduled at Georgetown University–and then the track meet at 4:00.

We’ll check in again after the meet.

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