It wasn’t long after the announcement that our Saint Ignatius boys track team had won the Georgetown Preparatory School’s Jesuit Invite that someone asked the fun question.
“Will they let us take the trophy on the plane?”
Don’t worry. The boys carried the trophy onto the plane without difficulty when we traveled home to Chicago on Saturday afternoon. It passed the TSA inspection. I didn’t get a story yet from the boy who actually carried the trophy into the TSA security gate. But I am sure it will be a good one.
It was a surprising win for the team. On Thursday night as we traveled by bus and plane from school to our hotel in Gaithersburg, MD, and on Friday before the meet as we traveled around the DC area by bus and Metro, I had delivered an honest assessment to the team. The entries and performance list for the meet listed four 40-plus-foot shot putters for Fordham Prep High School from New York City–along with two 14-foot pole vaulters and two more over 12 feet. There were no shot putters from any other teams to challenge the Fordham shot putters, and our three pole vaulters–a 13-footer, and two 11-footers–were the only other contestents. It was quite likely that after just two events, Fordham would hold a lead of about 50 points.
And when the meet actually started, it went a little bit worse for us. Running different events with a different meet order from what we were used to, we thought we had made an intelligent meet lineup and plan. But we had made a few mistakes with calculations and strategy, especially concerning the time between events for some of the boys. The meet moved a lot quicker than we were used to in Illinois. The first event started at 4:30, and we were eating dinner in a nearby room in Georgetown Prep’s Hanley Center at 7:15. That’s a fast track meet.
Our pole vaulters had a special challenge. We had decided to borrow poles in DC, not ship our own. We had also entered our vaulters in other events, and they were answering calls for those events as they tried to vault. Whatever the reason, our dependable number one vaulter, Elliot Gibson, no heighted for the first time ever. He had cleared his first height 11-feet-6 easily twice, only to fail in throwing his pole both times, and the pole knocked down the bar. Fordham Prep ultimately went 1,2,3, and 4 in both the pole vault and shot put, as our vaulters Emmett Boyle and Mickey Smith split points for fifth and sixth in a tie at 10 feet and 6 inches, with similar misses. We were down 56 to 3 after two events.
We didn’t make up any ground in the other early field events. In the long jump, our Chris Hawkins had finished third with a jump of 19 feet and 10.5 inches; Fordham was sixth—a small gain. In the high jump, Fordham was fourth, and Smith tied for sixth—so we lost a little ground.
Our overall strategy for the meet was to put our strongest runners in the individual events, where they could score maximum points. We scheduled our second tier of runners—good runners, just not our best, and often our younger boys–in the relays, hoping they could pick up a few points, even if they might not get top points. In the 4×800 early in the meet, this worked more or less as planned as Kallin Khan, Sean Stevens, Mickey Smith, and Patrick Manglano finished sixth for one point in 9:07; they ran well, with close to personal best efforts for all four.
But combined with the early field event results, the 4×800 results stretched the Fordham lead. They had been more aggressive with their relay, aiming to win. They were second, but they scored 8 points. So after five events, the score was 71 to 10.
I am going to take some credit for having prepared the boys. We knew we would start slow. They had understood our plan. They seemed unfazed–and all they could really do was give their best efforts and go to work event by event chopping down the big lead.
Fordham Prep’s Christian Doherty won the 55 meter hurdles in 7.95–but he just barely edged our Chris Hawkins who ran a personal best 7.97. Conor Dunham was fourth in 8.03; Fordham scored 10, but we scored 12. In the 55 meter dash, our Andrew Eady ran 7.02 for two fifth place points; Fordham scored none. So after nine of the 15 events, it was still 81 to 24.
To be honest, we were only vaguely aware of the score and the big deficit. The meet moved much faster than we expected, in an unfamiliar venue with unfamiliar events. We got very busy making sure boys made it to the event check-in and the starting line on time. At some meets we track the score—and at some meets, they announce the score as the meet progresses, sometimes simply posting the accrued score on the meet results as they post them on the wall. At Georgetown we didn’t keep score—and they didn’t announce it. We just knew we were going to start way, way behind and then we would try to catch up.
When we realized before the meet that we would face that large gap, we had debated whether to be more aggressive with the relays. We did not do so with the 4×800, but we did with the 4×200–and it was a decision that paid off. We entered our best team. Eady, Zeb McLaurin, Hawkins, and Dunham ran 1:35.81 for 8 second place points. Fordham scored 2 in fifth place.
In the East Coast indoor order of events, unlike in Illinois, the 1600–the old one mile race–comes relatively early in the meet. That was good for us, because we needed a big momentum changer. Our number one runner, Jack Keelan, who has a personal best of 4:09 in this event, sat in the pack and came through the half mile in about 2:15. It was a strategic move to help our other miler, Chris Korabik, stay comfortably in the race against some runners from the other schools who had entered with faster seed times. We didn’t want Keelan possibly helping other runners to run away from Korabik. Keelan aggressively moved out to a lead in the third quarter mile, at a point when no one else would be able to follow, and won in a new meet record of 4:25.05. The plan worked well as Korabik concentrated on beating the remaining runers to finish second in 4:30.52. That one-two finish scored 18 points; Fordham scored 1.
We lost ground in the 500-meters. Fordham Prep was third; we scored none.
But when Eliot Kaufmann of New York City’s Xavier High School won the 1000 meters, we finished strong behind him. Taylor Dugas had challenged Kaufman in the last lap and finished second (2:38.31), Andrew Reardon was third (2:40.64), and Korabik, running with just a short rest, was fourth (2:41.28). Fordham scored 2 points; Ignatius scored 18.
Eady scored two more points with a fifth place finish in the 300-meters (38.38).
Our original hope had been that we could keep the meet close until the 3200-meter. We would run Keelan again–and we had kept two strong, younger runners in reserve to join him, freshman Dan Santino and sophomore Andy Weber. Keelan had felt good in the 1600, and he had really held back, he said. Before the 3200 he said he wanted to do something special–and he targeted 9:20 as a goal. Santino and Weber would run together as a team; Keelan would run solo.
Some aggressive early running from Tyler Spear of Baltimore’s Loyola Blakefield School worked fine for Keelan. Spear raced through the first few laps in first place, running fast splits–31 for 200, 65 for 400. Then Keelan took over, and he proceeded to run laps of 34 and 35 seconds like clockwork. That stretched the field out, as a group of four runners gamely chased Keelan. Santino and Weber, meanwhile, settled into the middle of a second pack, running their own race.
At 1600, Spear and Chris Hoyle from Gonzaga were still holding on as Keelan came through in 4:38. But then Keelan kept up the steady pace—34 seconds one lap, 35 seconds the next. He pulled out to a bigger and bigger lead, and then finished with a 31 second last 200, running 4:33 for the second mile for a final time of 9:11.48.
Meanwhile, behind him, Santino and Weber were running their own clockwork-like race, knocking off laps of 37 and 38 seconds. They were 4:56 at the mile, back in seventh and eighth place. But in the second mile they maintained that same pace, running in tandem, and as some of the runners who had chased Keelan fell off the pace, Santino and Weber moved up to finish fourth and fifth in 9:56.76 and 9:57.59. It was the first time under 10:00 for both of them.
Fordham did not score in the 3200; Ignatius scored 16.
While we didn’t know at the time, we did figure out later that the 60 point gap had narrowed a lot at that point. In fact, with two events left, unknown to us, the score stood Fordham 96, Ignatius 86.
Georgetown Prep had clearly targeted the 4×400, no doubt wanting to win the last event in their own meet, and they used their star sprinter Ron Busby on the anchor to win in 3:33.14. Korabik, in his third race of the day, ran the first leg for us. He settled into the back of the lead pack of six, and then tried to move up on the second lap; his split of 55.5 seconds had us in fifth, but still close to the lead. Dugas ran the second leg in 54.0, moving us up a place, and then Reardon ran the third leg in 53.8, aggressively moving us up to third but close to the lead. Conor Dunham got the baton and rocketed into second over the first 100 meters. He was racing against Busby, the winner of the 500-meter, and Kaufmann of Xavier, winner of the 1000-meter. Busby wasn’t going to be caught. Kaufmann passed Dunham back in the next 200 meters, and although he made another run, Dunham couldn’t pass him back. His split of 52.9 gave the team third place in a season best time of 3:36.28.
Fordham, meanwhile, had finished sixth. It was a five point swing for us.
The 4×400 is always intended to be the final event of the meet. But often, instead, it turns out to be the triple jump. The meet ran so quickly on the track that the jumpers were still finishing—and, as it turns out, they were deciding the meet.
Hawkins was second with a season best jump of 41 feet and 8 inches—and Kyle Robinson was sixth (38-9.75), another point for Ignatius.
As the triple jump was finishing, our Ignatius team assembled on the meet bleachers for a team photo. It was an important photo for us.
Our special trip to the Jesuit Invite came as a gift from an Ignatius track alumnus, Ray Mayer. Mayer, from the class of 1951 and now a resident of Fairfax, Virginia, had been a star runner at Ignatius. Another Ignatius alumnus, Paul O’Shea, was a classmate with Mayer, and he also lives nearby in Fairfax. O’Shea is a track afficianado and a contributing writer to the Cross Country Journal. A third member of the class of 1951, Tom Coyne, had begun following our team in the fall, attending the Chicago Catholic League cross country championship meet. Coyne, who lives in Kalamazoo, MI, scheduled a trip to Maryland to coincide with the Jesuit Invite.
The three knowledgeable track men had watched the meet carefully, with a supportive but also educated and critical eye. Although I had tried to warn them, I am pretty sure that they were underwhelmed by our slow start in the meet. I had, in fact, told Mayer back in the fall as he was writing his check to cover the expenses that we had a good chance to win the meet. At the completion of the 4×800, as gamely as our young boys had run against the top runners from the other schools, Mayer had rightly noted, “We weren’t very competitive in that race.”
We had promised that we would do better as the meet progressed. And all three men seemed more satisfied with the good results that followed.
All three benefactors took a seat on the bench with the team as we took photographs—and then waited for an announcement of the final team results, which at that point were still a mystery. The boys had already noted that there were two team trophies available. “Second place is still a trophy,” I reminded them. “I think the announcer just took the results from the computer guy.”
It is pretty clear to me that they wanted the final score to carry some suspense. He announced the score from seventh place down. “With 12 points in seventh place, Regis. In sixth place, with 42 points, Loyola Blakefield.” Xavier scored 50 for fifth. Gonzaga fourth with 55. Georgetown Prep third with 74.
“The outcome of the meet came down to the last event,” said the announcer. “With 97 points, in second place, Fordham Prep.”
I am pretty sure none of the boys heard the rest of the announcement. It was Ignatius with 101.5 points for the win.
As the boys piled out of the bleachers jumping up and down, Ray Mayer got to feel like a full member of the team when one of the boys accidentally knocked him in the head. He just smiled at the jubilation around him.
After some celebration on the track, we reassembled the group again in the bleachers and took some more photos, this time with the trophy.
And the next day, on the plane ride home, we took photos of the trophy in the hotel, on the metro, in the airport, and on the plane.