On Tuesday, October 8, our freshmen boys met a special milestone in terms of becoming full-fledged members of our Saint Ignatius cross country team.
Our Tuesday plan, pretty much throughout the season, is an easy long run. From the Ignatius campus at 1076 West Roosevelt, we made our almost-every-practice trek to the lake front, running down Roosevelt–that is a mile and a half each way as warm-up and cool down. We assembled near the corner of Michigan and Roosevelt, on a grass plot near the Agora “legs” sculpture. We stretched there, and then assembled for our run. Our site is about a half mile away from where the Jones College Prep team meets each day, closer to Michigan and Balbo. But we both use the same bridge over the Metra electric line tracks and then the tunnels under Columbus and Lake Shore Drive to get to the lake path.
Assistant Coach Nate McPherson was leading our freshmen group of runners on their five mile run up the lake to the Chicago River, and then along the river path to the Michigan Avenue bridge, which is our halfway mark turnaround. They had run over the bridge and through the tunnels and were on the lakefront, approaching the Buckingham Fountain plaza, when they hit the milestone.
Freshman Robbie Skoronski asked Coach McPherson a question about the Roman empire. McPherson, a new teacher at Ignatius this year, teaches several sections of freshmen World History. A discussion began: Was the Roman Empire more successful as a republic or when led by the emperors?
I have listened to such discussions before on long runs. In case you are wondering, I heard this one because after a hiatus of some months, I am running again myself. It is a sign of progress for our freshmen that I did not hear much of the discussion. They ran five miles, and continued discussing, but I fell off the back of the pack shortly past the Buckingham Fountain plaza.
Our track and cross country programs have developed and changed over the last eleven years. But some things stay the same. I can remember Nick Christou, Ignatius Class of 2004, and Joe Miller, class of 2005, carrying on a similar conversation on their runs together ten years ago; Christou went on to St. John’s College in New Mexico, and Miller went to Georgetown University. I was running a lot better and faster then, and I got to listen to more of the conversation because I could keep up.
Coach McPherson, who is training to run the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, will carry on the seminar now. McPherson comes to Saint Ignatius after developing the program at Zion-Benton High School for the last five years. He was captain of the team when he attended Palatine High School, right about the time that program went through the transition from Fred Miller’s tenure to Chris Quick’s. As a college student at the University of Illinois he continued to run and train on his own.
McPherson has had to make some adjustments to his new role as an assistant coach, to be sure. Our Ignatius program is a little bit more laid back in terms of the daily intensity of our workouts–especially compared, for example, to what Quick described in his book about the Palatine team. Pace goals are moderate even on our hard days; seldom do we ask the boys for all-out efforts in practice. Those efforts are for races. But McPherson has made an impact. He’s brought us a new dynamic warm-up that the boys have embraced with conviction and energy. And even on those moderate pace days, his enthusiasm and intensity have earned him the nickname “Coach McFierce” from co-captain Taylor Dugas, who thanked McPherson in a team meeting for bringing a tougher and edgier attitude to the team.
McPherson joined our program as a third coach. For the last four years assistant coach Steven Bugarin has had an established role as a sensei-type guide for our top level runners; he is their pace setter for most workouts, and their guide up and down the lakefront on their long runs.
McPherson joins Bugarin and the “varsity” for some of their work-outs. But his special role has become that of coach for the freshmen, coaxing them along through the aches and pains of beginner runners who step up from running a few miles each week in middle school between soccer and lacrosse practices to running 30-40 miles in six days each week with our team.
This year’s freshmen group includes Lyndon Vickrey and Paul Tonner. Both boys have older brothers who recently graduated from Ignatius–brothers who were captains of our track and cross country teams two years ago. Clifford Vickrey and Mike Tonner, graduates in the class of 2012, raced each other as friends, teammates, and competitors for four years. Now Lyndon and Paul, who have finished within seconds of each other in their last three races, have re-engaged in the same family feud–deja vu all over again.
Ned Sutoris, another freshmen, emerged as our top finisher in the freshman 2- mile race at Niles West last Saturday, with a time of 11:41. Vickrey (11:56) and Tonner (12:02) were close behind, followed by Skoronski (12:08). Finnbarr Connors was the fifth scorer for the team (12:55). As a group they finished 9th out of 24 schools.
Our only concern about this group is that with the exception of Skoronski, the four others play other sports in the winter and spring. Sutoris is a talented volleyball player who, as a freshman, will be a candidate for the Ignatius varsity team. Vickrey and Tonner play lacrosse; Connors is a strong swimmer.
We have four more freshmen on our roster: Evan Ram was cut from the freshman soccer team and decided to give cross country a try; two other soccer players gave us a try and then stopped trying. Ram ran his first three-mile cross country race in 24:37. Jack Kohler ran 24:18. Ian Wolff ran 25:58–on what was probably just a bad day in his first race ever at the ICOPS Invite. Wolff has since run 18:14 for 2.5 miles at the Palatine Invite, on pace to run under 22:00 for three miles. Ram ran 14:25 for two miles at Niles West, and his goal will be to break 22:00 in his next three-mile race. Kohler was 13:59 at Niles West, and he will aim to get close to 21:00.
Finally, Ariel Farinango rounds out the group; he has run 23:38 for three miles.
The next big race for the freshmen is the Chicago Catholic League championship on October 19.
We probably should also mention that the team had a few more freshmen at the start of the season that we have lost along the way as the season progressed.
But the boys above have fought through their aches and pains–and their doubts and worries–to become cross country runners.
These are our runners of the future, who have a lot in common with our runners from the past–including their beyond-the-classroom interest in the Roman Empire.