Starting a new tradition: The South Loop Challenge for the Sears Tower Trophy

A post-race photo of the Saint Ignatius and Jones College Prep cross country teams--with the Sears Tower Trophy.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

A post-race photo of the Saint Ignatius College Prep and Jones College Prep cross country teams–with the Sears Tower Trophy. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Almost every weekday in Chicago’s Grant Park, on opposite sides of the artificial knoll and the General John Logan Civil War monument that divides the south end of the park along Michigan Avenue, our Saint Ignatius College Prep cross country meets at Roosevelt and Michigan to practice while the team from Jones College Prep meets at Balbo and Michigan.

We both use the same bridge over the Illinois electric tracks and the same tunnels under Columbus Avenue and Lake Shore Drive when our boys run out to the lakefront trail.  We wave and say hello as we pass each other coming and going as far south as 39th street beach on that trail.  We both use Bobsled Hill near Soldier Field for sprint and interval workouts, and coaches even check with each other sometimes to make sure our teams are there on different days.

We each know how hard the other team works.  We start our competitive seasons together at our low-key Wolfpack Howl, really kind of a scrimmage.  We compete against each other in several big invitationals with dozens of other teams, most notably at the Palatine Invitational at the end of September.

So it just seemed natural that we should get together and race one team against the other with something at stake.

“Last summer,” our assistant coach Nate McPherson tells the story, “I attended a barbecue hosted by the Palatine cross country coach Chris Quick. In attendance were a number of cross country coaches, among them Andrew Adelmann from Jones College Prep.   We discussed the fact that neither of our leagues (Chicago Public League and Chicago Catholic League) host regular dual meets among the members.”

Other conferences, like the West Suburban and the Mid Suburban leagues, require small meets among its teams during the season.  McPherson concludes, “We talked about how neat it would be to have an annual dual meet with each other. “

The meet took shape over the next few months, as both teams dropped the invitationals they had scheduled for the October 11 weekend before the conference meets for the Chicago Catholic League and the Chicago Public League.   Jones took on the job of home team and arranged for permits to run on the Chicago Public League championship course in Washington Park.  We offered up our computer watches and Hytek computer software for tabulating results.

Starting line for the first Jones Vs. Ignatius South Loop Challenge.

Starting line for the first Jones Vs. Ignatius South Loop Challenge.

Along the way, coaches and athletes discussed various components to make the meet “special.”  Our early season, informal race had always had a competitive aspect.  But this dual meet would take place right before the conference meets, as both teams expected to be rounding into championship form.  Jones would be prepararing to win back the Public League crown that they had earned in 2012 with a dominating score of 17 points—before going on to win the IHSA 2A state championship.  Ignatius would be trying to win back the CCL championship it had won in 2010 and in 2012.  There would be bragging rights at stake—both for our teams and for our leagues—as both are teams that could make a claim to be among the best in the city.  At the very least, it would be a championship for the South Loop.

Wolfpack captain Andy Weber leads the team during the pre-race handshakes.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Wolfpack captain Andy Weber leads the team during the pre-race handshakes. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Adelmann and his coaches emailed with the suggestion that we start the race a little bit differently than other invitationals.   Before the race both teams would line up for a handshake.   Then, instead of assigning each team to its own starting box, the top seven from each team would take the starting line together—and they would line up in alternating order, Jones, Ignatius, Jones, Ignatius.

And then there was the trophy.  He took some input from our boys—and even from me.   But it was really McPherson’s brainchild and baby.  His brother, Aaron (an accountant by day), was a woodworker, he told me as he laid out his plan early in September.   They were going to build a Sears Tower replica, and there would be room to put the names of the boys from the winning team each year, like the Stanley Cup.

“In the three weeks before the meet,” McPherson continues, “my brother and I got together on Saturday afternoons to work on this trophy.”  He supplied some photographs as the trophy took shape—most notably, one without the base as an unstained tower structure which was nonetheless almost three-feet tall already.  He showed us the small plaque for the trophy base when it arrived in the mail.

The finished trophy.  Photo by Nate McPherson.

The finished trophy. Photo by Nate McPherson.

On the Monday before the Thursday race, the photo showed a finished product, wood stained black, with white antennas on top.

I sent the photo to some media friends, including Justin Breen of DNA Info Chicago and Mike Clark of the Sun-Times.   Breen expressed interest in the story, and you can read it here.  Clark wanted a photo so he could put it in his cross country notes column.

The trophy itself appeared in the faculty lounge at Ignatius on Thursday morning before the evening race.  When we loaded the bus to take it to Washington Park, there were some comments about how important it would be to bring the travelling trophy home to Ignatius at the end of the day.

The meet began with the frosh soph race.  It was a good one.  We had lost to the Jones frosh soph team twice previously, at our own Connelly-Polka Invite and then at the Palatine Invite back in September.  Our boys gave a very strong Jones group a run for their money, but we came up just short, 25-30.  Freshman Patrick Hogan led the Wolfpack with his second place finish, running 16 minutes and 56 seconds on the slightly longer than 3-mile course.  Sophomore Lyndon Vickrey (5th, 17:18), sophomore Joe Amoruso (6th, 17:28), freshman Brett Haffner (7th, 17:36), and sophomore Paul Tonner (10th, 18:12) completed the scoring five for the Wolfpack.

Then it was time for the main event.

Our team ran what was arguably our best race of the season—and the Jones team didn’t.

The top three Wolfpack runners--Kallin Khan, Andy Weber, and Dan Santino--took control of the race early.  In a dual meet, 1-2-3 wins the match.  Photo by Steven Bugarin.

The top three Wolfpack runners–Kallin Khan, Andy Weber, and Dan Santino–took control of the race early. In a dual meet, 1-2-3 wins the match. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

Midway through the race, after the first 1.5 mile loop, it seemed like Ignatius was in control, with four among the top five leaders.  But Jones runners lurked nearby.  Mark Protsiv, number one Jones runner for much of the season, chased the top three Ignatius leaders—Dan Santino, Andy Weber, and Kallin Khan.  Ignatius runner John Lennon trailed that group closely.  But four more Jones runners—Tony Solis, Will Sarchet, Nico Moreno, and Kyle Maloney–were leading the Ignatius number five runner, Vince Lewis.  The race would be decided on the second lap.

But on that lap our boys moved forward, while the Jones boys retreated a little bit.

Dan Santino, Andy Weber, Kallin Khan, and John Lennon go 1-2-3-4 for the Wolfpack.

Dan Santino, Andy Weber, Kallin Khan, and John Lennon go 1-2-3-4 for the Wolfpack.

At the end, the Wolfpack brought the new travelling trophy back to Ignatius and defeated Jones by the score of 19-36.  Ignatius went 1-2-3-4 with Santino (15:48), Weber (15:53), Khan (16:08), and Lennon (16:16).  Then it was Solis, Protsiv, Sarchet, and Moreno.  Vince Lewis (9th, 16:41) was the fifth scoring runner for the Wolfpack, with seniors Brian Santino (11th, 16:49) and Joey Connelly (14th, 17:16) completing the team.

The two teams will meet again at the IHSA Regional meet, again at Washington Park, on October 25.  Both teams will likely advance to the IHSA Sectional at Niles West on November 1.  Both teams have teams that are strong enough to advance to the IHSA state championship in Peoria a week later.

We don’t know where we will keep the trophy until next year.  We will probably add a small plaque with the names of our boys as the winning team for 2014.

And next year we will race for the trophy again.

“Although it started out as a small idea, it kept growing as we got more input from the boys on the team and others in the community,” says McPherson, who gets lots of credit for the success of this new event on our calendar. “We are hoping to make this a quality tradition for both the Saint Ignatius and Jones College Prep teams.”

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