Category Archives: parenting

A not so quick story about reading Chris Quick’s One Way, Uphill Only

Palatine coach Chris Quick holds up the 3A cross country trophy at the 2011 IHSA championship meet.  Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Palatine coach Chris Quick holds up the 3A cross country trophy at the 2011 IHSA championship meet. Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Last Saturday morning I attended a retirement Fun Run and celebration party, complete with a cake, organized by grateful parents and athletes of longtime Chicago-University High track and cross country coach Bud James.  That event will be another blog post.

Then in the evening I helped out at the Midwest Distance Festival at Illinois Benedictine in Lisle, where I made it a point late in the evening to seek out Palatine cross country and track coach Chris Quick.  We had only a short conversation, but I had the pleasure of meeting and shaking hands with Palatine alumnus Tim Meincke, who was standing with Quick.  Together they watched Palatine sophomore Graham Brown break the frosh-soph school record for 3200 meters, running 9:29.45 for two miles, 9:26.1 on my official watch at the meet for 3200.  Earlier in the evening I had watched another member of the Palatine team, senior Christian Zambrano, run 4:18.81 for a mile.

Meincke (nickname “Monkey” to his Palatine friends), Brown (apparently still known as “Prodigy”), and Zambrano are key characters in Quick’s book, One Way, Uphill Only, his memoir about the 2011 Palatine cross country season in which the team won the Illinois High School Association 3A state title.  While there might not have been a book without that victory, perhaps, the book is less about winning the race and more about the relationships among the teammates and their coach on the way to that victory.

I am working on getting the exact details, but I remember either after the summer of 2010—or better, the summer of 2011—a parent of a Saint Ignatius cross country boy told me that they had seen the Palatine High School boys cross country team running together in Colorado somewhere in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.  Maybe the Ignatius team could do the same thing? asked the parent.

I’m not sure how I answered at the time.  But my thought, then and now, is that Ignatius is not Palatine.

Palatine cross country coach Chris Quick.  Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Palatine cross country coach Chris Quick. Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

After reading Chris Quick’s book I am even more sure of that.

A Palatine team booster club, as I understand the arrangements, pays most of the expenses to send the team to Colorado each summer; the accommodations are not splendid, with some boys sleeping on the floor of rough cabins.  But it is a powerful bonding experience for the team as they share hardships of accommodations—and the suffering of running up mountains in altitude.

The Alumni Mile at the Palatine Relays puts as many as a hundred former runners and other team supporters on the track each spring--many of whom also volunteer their help at the meet.  Coaches Chris Quick and Joe Parks join them.  Photo by Palatine Track.

The Alumni Mile at the Palatine Relays puts as many as a hundred former runners and other team supporters on the track each spring–many of whom also volunteer their help at the meet. Coaches Chris Quick and Joe Parks join them. Photo by Palatine Track.

For years our track team has competed at the Palatine Relays at the end of April or early in May, and each time I marvel at the community support for the event.  It is the only meet we attend where visiting coaches do not have to chip in and run the events; competent community volunteers take all those tasks—like measuring the long jump, shot put, discus, and triple jump.  We competed at the Palatine Invitational cross country meet for the last two years.  Once again volunteers carry an enormous load of the work for the meet—including the concession stand that sells a lot of hot chocolate and coffee. I can imagine that the Palatine community probably supports its football and basketball teams, the major high school spectator sports, with even bigger crowds—although perhaps not as many volunteers who actually help to run the events.

At Ignatius we have a few home track meets, and we host a cross country meet.  A few parents help out, but the coaches do most of the work.  This is not a criticism of our wonderful parents—and we hope to recruit more alumni to help, as well.

Palatine, as Quick’s book emphasizes at several turns, is not York High School, the dominant state power and perennial favorite to win the cross country title.  The school marching band does not follow the team to the state cross country meet, like the York band does.  Busloads of fans do not come to the state cross country meet from Palatine.

But in Quick’s book about the 2011 Palatine cross country team that won the Illinois High School Association state championship, it is clear that this is a program of storied achievement going back years and years—and the community both feeds, demands, and supports that achievement.

Perhaps nothing shows this more clearly than Quick’s description of the Early Bird Running Program, a 6:00 AM summer run for the team and the community in Palatine.  Each morning of the program 150 runners—some from the high school team, some from elementary schools, and many adult runners, including cross country and track alumni —gather in front of the high school:  “While most high school groups develop an insular bond with one another through school camps, we train alongside Boston Marathon aspirants, fitness joggers, mothers and fathers, and returning alums.”

There is, in fact, a large Ignatius track community out there in the world.  We’ve seen it come alive and coalesce at moments like beloved Coach Jim Connelly’s funeral last September.  But we don’t get together daily in the summer150-strong at 6:00 AM to run together and encourage our high school boys and girls teams.

Ignatius is not Palatine.

Palatine, as I have said, is not York, either.  After winning the state cross country title in 2013, York has now won the state championship trophy 27 times in the last 48 years.

As Quick begins his story, Palatine had never won.  But they had finished second five times—including a recent stretch of three second-place finishes in a row:  2003, 2004, and 2005, all three times behind York.  Quick had been assistant coach for the first two, and then head coach in 2005.  In addition, Quick coached his team to third place in 2007.  Quick’s Palatine program has produced IHSA individual champions Alec Bollman (1600-meters in 2010), Matt Smoody (800-meters in 2007 and 2008), and Steve Finley (XC in 2005).  In its conference, Palatine had won 61 consecutive dual meets in the Mid Suburban League, as Quick wrote his book in 2011, and in 2011 Palatine won its ninth consecutive conference championship.

After Jack Keelan’s exploits this past year, Ignatius now has a proud state champion, too.  In 1981 Mike Patton won the state cross country championship, the 3200 at the state track meet, and then finished third in the 1600—another great champion.  But when we won the Chicago Catholic League cross country championship in 2010, it was the first time since 1991.  We did win again in 2012—and in 2013 we won the CCL outdoor track championship meet.  But that was the first track championship since 1991, as well.

When we qualified as a team to compete at the state championship cross country meet in 2010, it was the first time our team had done so since 1981.

Ignatius is not Palatine.

Even before his team won the 2011 state cross country championship, Quick, then at just 35 years of age, had already established the groundwork for a hall-of-fame level career—and he had put his name in big letters on the already established monument of Palatine track and field and cross country success.

But in addition to celebrating the hard work and success of his 2011 team, Quick’s book also makes another thing perfectly clear—Quick himself is unapologetically a running and coaching nut.  I mean no disrespect–and instead of nut, a better word might be “character.”   Completely devoted to and passionate about his team, deeply involved in what he openly acknowledges as a loving relationship among his ”men,” knowledgeable and expert as a trainer, Quick is also capable of wonderful foolishness that in fact demonstrates the depth of his love for his sport and his boys.  It might also be the key to his success as a coach.

When Quick pushed his team into the Rocky Mountains to run up ten percent inclines and switchbacks, climbing over snow drifts in June to complete the assigned runs, he pushed his own 35-year-old body to run with them.  He, too, ran 80- and 90-mile weeks the rest of that summer.   He suffered and sweated beside them.

I did not attend the 2011 state cross country championship meet in Peoria when Palatine won.  Our Ignatius team has its own story from that year, a story told in these blog pages as the team, not a big surprise, and its star runner Jack Keelan, which was a surprise, failed to qualify for that state meet.   So I didn’t travel to the Peoria on that November day; neither did Keelan, for the record.  Other members of the team, in fact, did so to watch as spectators.

After reading Quick’s account of the race, I regret not having been there, mainly because I missed seeing Quick in the outfit he wore that day, which he describes unapologetically in the book.  Having pushed his own running and training to the limit that season, even as he pushed his team, Quick dressed himself in a red Palatine throwback singlet and short, red running shorts—and he admittedly scrambled around the course like a mad man as he exhorted his team to run and win.

Quick had earned that uniform, most readers of the book would agree, after training alongside his boys all year.

The book makes it clear that Quick is a knowledgeable coach in terms of designing a demanding training program for his team and that he is also skilled at team building and psychological motivation.  But it is also clear that Quick, an AP English teacher at Palatine, is also a romantic, whose passion and emotion about what he does at several key moments of the book overwhelms his telling the story.  In other words, as he tells us in the book, he cries a lot when the moments overwhelm him.  And his emotions, he admits, often get the best of him.

Some might wonder about boundaries and propriety–and wonder whether Quick gets too close to his boys.  He describes the team peeing together in the bushes before the championship race at the state meet—angering a park monitor.   Boys stop by his house at 9:00 PM for summertime evening runs.  He knows their music, and their personal tastes in terms of food, dress, and hygiene   He seldom says a word, however, about their lives beyond the team—except about their relationships with parents, which seem important to Quick.

He writes about the Palatine track team’s visit to the York field house in the middle of the book as Palatine runs an indoor track meet there; he describes the York trophy room, with its 27 state trophies.   Nothing could match that impressive memorabilia.  But much later in the book he describes the basement room of his own house—with team photographs, framed medals, and trophy photographs of each individual runner on the team that won the trophy.  Indeed, he apparently has a room in his private home devoted to his Palatine running teams.

He describes numerous occasions when he stands in front of his team giving speeches in which he cries—including the morning of the state championship run.  On that day, as Quick tells the story, he had so convinced the boys on his team of their love for each other that they all cried together.

Then they went out and won the state championship that afternoon.

I have never cried in front of my team, either out of emotion or as a way to motivate them—and I have never managed to move them to tears.  We do have a framed photograph on the wall of our family room of our 2010 conference-winning cross country team, celebrating my Lawless Award as the Chicago Catholic League’s top coach that year.  It was given to me by my team that season.

But Ignatius is not Palatine.  And I am not Chris Quick.

Quick, as I suggested, is unapologetic about his coaching passion.  Other coaches make appearances in the book, especially his Mid Suburban League colleagues.  The book celebrates the hard-boiled competition of that conference.  The relationships and rivalries between these coaches, as Quick describes them, in some ways resemble the relationships among the coaches in the Chicago Catholic League, of course.  But Quick also seems to make it a point that these MSL coaches, like himself, are pretty nutty.  Among those coaches, his closest friend, he notes, is Jamie Klotz of Buffalo Grove.  Klotz make several appearances in the book, and he is among the first to congratulate Quick after the state championship win.

Coach Jamie Klotz with the Buffalo Grove Bisons.  Photo by Dyestat Illinois.

Coach Jamie Klotz with the Buffalo Grove Bisons. Photo by Dyestat Illinois.

As he tells the story of the 2011 MSL indoor championship meet early in the book, Quick also affectionately describes Klotz this way:  “As head coach of Buffalo Grove’s cross country and track teams, he is one of the true characters in Illinois sports.  To know him and love him you must be anesthetized to an endless stream of filthy language.  He’s not the kind of guy you take your mother to meet.  My mom has met him.  All she could say afterward was ‘Who is this guy?  I’ve never heard anyone say f*** in so many creative ways.’  On MSL days, he goes straight into barbarian mode.  With his bright red goatee, shaved head, and numerous tattoos, he coaches with the ferocity of a medieval Viking.  The man should be decked out with a battle axe and an ancient helmet scarred with the blows of former foes.  When I hear the first ‘Attack!!  Attack!!’  of the meet, I know it is time to go.  Klotz and I always look each other in the eye and think the same thing, ‘Are you ready to bang today, brother?’”

Quick’s book deserves a real book review.  He self-published it last year, and I didn’t finally get a copy from him until a few weeks ago.  I really probably didn’t have a chance to read it until this week, with school finished and the track season over. But I pretty much read it straight through over a few days.   A commercial publisher, Breakaway Books, will release a second edition in the fall, and that book, with a new cover, is listed already on  Maybe I can write something more like a real book review at that time.  In other words, it would be a review of the book which would describe the book for any reader.

Because, as a coach, what especially captivated my thoughts as I read the book was the landscape it described in terms of coaching, specifically among these storied Illinois coaches that we compete against, as well.

The sporting drama of the book includes two bookend events—the 2010 state championship cross country race that Palatine lost and the 2011 race which it won.  York won the 2010 meet.  But much of the drama of the 2010 race—and the 2011 race which follows the same initial plot, with a different ending—really centers on the battle between Palatine and Neuqua Valley, who pursue what are essentially opposite racing strategies.

In 2010 Palatine’s runners—it is not quite clear how much under coach’s orders and how much simply out of a youthful response to their coach’s bubbling belief and enthusiasm—began the race so aggressively that they took an enormous lead after the first mile.  It was Palatine ahead of Oak Park-River Forest, another fast starting team, 57-138.  None of the meet favorites—in particular, York and Neuqua Valley—were in the mix at that point.

Then the Palatine runners faded.  “Monkey” Meincke, who had led the Palatine runners until well after the first half mile in a misguided chase behind the frontrunners that day Lukas Verzbicas and Jack Driggs , ended up 135thoverall.  Tony Gregorio held on for all-state honors in 20th.  The others finished in the spaces between.

Meanwhile, from behind the Palatine runners, York, Lake Zurich, and Neuqua Valley moved through the field, eventually taking the top three spots.  Neuqua edged Palatine out for the last trophy, 180-189.  At the mile, Neuqua had been hundreds of points behind.

Coached by Paul Vandersteen, Neuqua had run virtually the opposite race from Palatine.  Controlled and careful, their team had moved through the ranks as a bunch.  They did not win the state meet in 2010, but they had done so twice in the previous three years.

Tony Gregorio and Peter Tomkiwiecz were all-state runners for Palatine's 2011 state championship team.  Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Seniors Tony Gregorio and Peter Tomkiewicz, with shaven heads andwearing Palatine red uniforms with a throwback “P” on the front, finished 14th and 10th as all-state runners for Palatine’s 2011 state championship team. Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

In 2011, Palatine’s race plan was to run a similar race—except they would not fade so dramatically.  There were also two differences from 2010.  First, Meincke was going to hold back and run as a truly important fifth man.   Rather than leading a Light Brigade charge down the hill, Meincke settled into an intelligent pace in the middle of the pack.  In addition, over the course of the previous year, a new top runner had emerged for Palatine, Peter Tomkiewicz.   Tomkiewiecz would finish as the tenth place scorer in the team race, followed by Tony Gregorio in 14th, Tim Johnson 21st, Marcus Garcia 22nd—and Meincke in 47th—for a team total of 114 points.

But the danger, in Quick’s mind, had been Neuqua, once again.  Could their disciplined charge once again catch Palatine from behind?  In fact, they finished third once again with 144 points.

Upstart O’Fallon had been a stealth team behind Palatine with 120 points—leading Palatine, in fact, in the early stages of the race.  They had almost out-Palatined Quick’s team.  The final difference, in fact, had been Johnson, Garcia, and Meincke, all of whom finished just a few places ahead of the number three, four, and five runners from O’Fallon.

I don’t really know Paul Vandersteen from Neuqua Valley or Jon Burnett from O’Fallon.  I’ve talked briefly with each of them, and I’ve emailed once or twice.

But I know from Facebook and Twitter, we are friends there who follow each other, that Vandersteen is a science teacher.  He takes his students on ecology field trips.  Along with pictures of his family, he’ll post a picture of a turtle on his Facebook page .  His training methods have benefited from experimentation, it would seem, and they have evolved into a path of moderation, as opposed to passion.   We had an email exchange a few years ago, in response to some of my blog posts at the time about what is appropriate mileage for summer running, and he told me that he no longer pushed his boys into the 1000-mile club, as he had once done.  In addition, his team really does not do its most serious training until the season is well underway; for the first half of the season, even, it is a dose of tempo running, and then their training emphasizes moderate interval work mainly at a distance of three-quarters of a mile or so–lots of 1200s, it seems.  As I have read about this kind of approach in training books, like our current Bible, Jack Daniels’s Running Formula, this is a program that seems to go by the book.  In particular, according to the “book,” it is not recommended that runners do many hard intervals for more than 5:00 minutes at a time.

I do not believe that Vandersteen takes his team into the Rocky Mountains for a trip of running pain sessions.  I suspect that he does not cry very often, or at all, in front of his team.  [Note:  After reading this, Vandersteen did want me to know that, in fact, he does cry in front of his team–usually on the night before the state meet as the team reviews its season together.]   In other words, Vandersteen would seem to be a rationalist—and a very successful one.

I know even less about Burnett  We had one exchange at breakfast last November in the Embassy Suites Hotel before the state cross country race later in the day.  “Our guys are going to be gunning for Jack,” he had told me.  And, indeed, O’Fallon’s Alex Riba would run ahead of Keelan for almost two-and-a-half miles of the three miles later that day.

As I think about these men, and then Joe Newton, as well, they do kind of fall into different categories of approach and mindset.  Quick is the poet coach—all about suffering, passion, and effort.  Vandersteen is the scientist coach—emphasizing discipline, control, and adherence to a plan.  Burnett is perhaps a psychologist coach, who seems to prepare his team for the biggest contests.

Newton?  I don’t know him except in passing, watching him from afar at track or cross country meets; I have read some of his writings as a coach and watched him on video.   I’ve also heard testimonials from his former athletes.  He famously tries to shake the hand of every runner on his team, 200 boys whom he knows by name, every day at the end of practice.  At Ignatius, I replaced our legendary coach Jim Connelly—and they are of a similar generation, I think.  Connelly was an engineer, a math teacher—and also a political science teacher.  They share some similarities of character and approach—and I think that their former athletes give similar testimonials.  Newton, it seems to me, is also a political scientist of sorts—a builder of teams as a political system, one in which he pulls the strings, perhaps, as the boss maker.

All these men are characters—as are many coaches, it would seem.

But Quick—and several of the other MSL coaches he lionizes in his book—go a little bit further into the areas of color and flamboyance.  Joe Newton never dressed himself in a bright red team uniform and short shorts in order to chase his runners around Detweiller Park.

Chris Quick and I have had as many as four significant conversations that I remember pretty well.   At the 2011 state meet, our 4×800 team ran in the last heat.  For almost three legs we were up front with the leaders, vying for a qualifying spot in the final; we faded at the end, but we had taken a good shot.  Palatine had run in the second heat and run well, apparently qualifying for the final.  After our race I was walking past the east end of the track, when I bumped into Quick, whom I must have already known somehow in passing, probably meeting at the Palatine Relays.  He basically gave me a pat on the back and some encouragement along the lines of, “Your guys were in it until the end.”  He had been watching and paying attention to our guys.

As we arrived to run the Palatine Relays in 2012, Jack Keelan had recovered from the cross country disappointment of 2011 by running great that winter—and then he dropped his astounding 8:56.86 for 3200 at Arcadia in early April.  He was now among the favorites for the state meet a month away.   Quick was working at the changes and scratches desk before the meet.  It must have been the first time I had seen him since Palatine had won the state championship.  Always scouting, perhaps, Quick asked me about Keelan’s plans at the state meet.  He wanted to go after the double, I told him, 3200 and 1600.  He smiled his approval.  I explained the strategy we were developing; I call it the 2:05 strategy.  Keelan had demonstrated on several occasions that he could negative split his races with a strong final 800 meters, 2:05 or better.  That was the way to do it, Quick said supportively.  I suggested that there were other guys who might be able to do the same thing—like Todd Ford at Loyola Academy.  Ford had outkicked Keelan for second place behind Leland Later at the Palatine Invite cross country race the previous fall.  Quick didn’t really agree:  “But I don’t think there are more than a couple guys who can run 2:05 the last 800 when they are all running 9:00 pace already.”

Then he smiled and told me, “Enjoy this!  Whatever you’re doing with him, keep doing it.”

We touched base again at the Palatine Relays this year, and then we had a sporadic  talk together at the Nalley Invitational as we both hung out by the 200 meter mark watching our athletes run that day.  It was there that I started to make arrangements to get my hands on Quick’s book, which I had meant to buy in the fall but hadn’t done so.

Finally, after Keelan’s double win at the state meet and our team’s surprising fourth place finish, one of my favorite emails came from Quick:  “I really enjoyed reading your blog about the weekend…  Stay up high floating on those clouds my friend!”

In those conversations, Quick had made me feel like part of the fraternity when I still felt like an outsider—or even a pretender.  To be fair, even my email exchanges with Paul Vandersteen had made me feel that way, as well.

What I have learned over the last fifteen years or so of watching my coaching colleagues at work is that there are many ways to do the job successfully—and nonetheless lots of disagreement about how to do it best.

At the end of his book, after the big victory at state–which seems like it should be the ending, but isn’t–Quick tells some stories about events after the state meet.  The team goes on to complete at the Nike X-Country Nationals meet, finishing 5th in the country.  But Quick, under IHSA rules, isn’t allowed to coach them, and he watches from the sidelines.

He also tells the story of an all-school pep rally at Palatine High School—the impromptu kind reserved for only when a team wins a state championship.  Quick finds himself with the microphone at the end of the event—and he admits that he has always liked having a microphone in his hand, just the way, it seems, he likes standing before his team giving motivational talks.  At the pep rally, Quick describes for the audience the struggle and work of his team over the last year, including the torture of running up Rocky Mountains.   And then he talks about what it has meant to him personally to watch his team work so hard–and then succeed.

Chad Quick gets his turn with the state trophy after Palatine's 2011 state championship.  Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Chad Quick gets his turn with the state trophy after Palatine’s 2011 state championship. Photo by Palatine Cross Country.

Finally, he introduces the crowd to his team’s biggest fan and supporter—his brother, Chad.  His brother, wheelchair bound since childhood, has cerebral palsy.  Chad, it would seem, represents the community and its support for the team—and the team has performed because of that support.  The team has run, it would seem, finally, for those like Chad who could not run.

Quick succeeds in making many of the people in his audience cry.

It is a measure of the place of a cross country team and its coach, even a state champion team, in a high school community that afterward Quick was still known by many in the general student population as “the guy who gave that speech.”  (I suspect they know the name of the football coach.)

Quick, the man with a Palatine memorabilia room in his home basement, talks about the sacrifices and support of his wife and his own children which allow him to coach the team, especially at the end of the book.  His father had been a hall-of-fame cross country and track coach, as well.  The 2011 Palatine cross country championship was clearly a family affair—and indeed, he describes the boys on the team as an extended family.

We do have aspects that suggest a family in our own Saint Ignatius program, and we cultivate those.   Peggy allows us to hold a team picnic and party in our Hyde Park condo, early in the season every year.  The boys on our team know my wife and kids by name.

So there are similarities with the Palatine program.

And I share some things with Quick.  He quit a graduate school Ph.D. program at Northwestern University in history when he decided finally that what he really wanted to do in his life was be a coach—and to marry his wife, Meredith, who at the time lived back home in Moline.  I had made a similar decision in the mid-1990s to leave my graduate program in English at Northwestern, my second attempt at a graduate program, for I am almost twenty years older than Quick.  A vague plan to teach and coach was behind my decision.  Quick and I, of course, are also both English teachers; we share the burden of grading papers and inspiring students to read and to write, as well as to run.  Like Quick, I have a special place in my heart for Romanticism and its excesses of feeling and expression—for both the British, but more importantly, the American versions.  Where Quick, I suspect, might lean toward Blake (“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”) and Tennyson (“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”), I probably lean toward Whitman ( “If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.”) and Emerson ( ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.’ And “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”).

What’s more, I, too, have a family member, our son Luc, who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  Luc can walk—and he can even skip along doing something that he calls running.  But without full control of his right leg and not  much use of his right arm, he has significant physical struggles.  It is not likely he will ever run on a cross country team.  My wife, Peggy, however, has frequently told me that we should never say never about things like that when it comes to Luc, who continues to surprise us.

There were particular moments in Quick’s book where my own attention piqued, especially at events where I remember my own experiences on the same days—like the state cross country meet of 2010, the 4×800 at the state meet in 2011, the Palatine Invite of 2011, and the Palatine Relays of 2011, where our teams competed with Palatine and others.

ernstBut most of all, Quick’s book sometimes made me wonder just how nutty I might seem to my runners and their parents, and, perhaps, boys and coaches from other teams, as well.  I don’t think that I am nearly the same kind of character as Quick, or Jamie Klotz, for example.  But perhaps there are boys from other teams who know me as that coach who wears the funny hat all the time.

Officially, I wear the hat as a way to battle the occupational hazard of sun damage.  But I guess I also just like to wear it because it is a little bit different.

And I do have to wonder whether my team might be a little bit more successful if I could be a little bit more of a character like Chris Quick.

THUMBNAIL_IMAGE bookHere is the Palatine Cross Country pages link for Chris Quick’s book, One Way, Uphill Only:

And here is the link for the new edition on


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Early morning on race day at the Embassy Suites

Up at 4:00 AM in the Embassy Suites Hotel in East Peoria, I really did not have a problem sleeping the night before this big day of the state cross country championship race.  I’m usually up at 5:00, and last night I actually went to bed at least an hour earlier than usual.   There just wasn’t a whole lot to do here last night.

I took my computer down to the lobby to use the internet outside the closed Starbuck’s internet cafe.  The only people around were hotel staff and one dressed up couple; the woman was carrying around a big tall fancy drink glass.  “Couldn’t sleep?” a hotel worker asked.

“Just up early,” I said.

I checked my email, read the Bulls score and story from last night, scanned the weather report, and did some schoolwork, posting an assignment for my senior Journalism class to Edline.  I wondered how they did on the test I left for them when I missed class yesterday to drive down here.

Then I brought my computer back upstairs, and I went for a run.  It had rained overnight.  It was in the 40s, but not too bad once the running got me warm.  It was still dark.  The rain will soften the course a little bit, but the rest of the day should be dry according to the weather report.

Two years ago when we brought our team, it occurred to me what an advantage the coaches who bring teams here every year have over those of us who are still learning the ropes.  That year I got terribly lost trying to find the Avanti’s in Washington, turning a 15 minute drive into an hour detour.  Last night I got lost navigating the maze in East Peoria around I-74, but we got there without too much trouble.  We did have a long wait for a table, however.  Next year we will get there early before the rush.

Yes, we are already talking about next year.

But first, this year.   I put our two runners Jack Keelan and Chris Korabik back in their room at around 9:30, after we spent some time at dinner with their somewhat raucous teammates.  Jack remarked on the way back to the Embassy Suites that it had been a good idea to have the boys who were not running the race stay in another hotel.  Their energy level was high; Korabik and Keelan were trying to conserve theirs for the race the next day.

We had arrived in Peoria at 1:15, going directly to Detweiller.  Keelan and Korabik had run the course.  They visited race box number 10, where they will start.  I had a longer conversation with Rob Heselton from Jones College Prep, along with shorter ones with Mike Newman from Illinois Prep Harrier and and Bud James from Chicago University High.  Then I attended the 2:00 required coaches meeting with the meet officials.  We got some instruction about using the new bib chips.  Key piece of information:  Don’t put a pin through the chip part of the bib, because then it won’t work.

After we checked in at the Embassy Suites, Keelan and Korabik took it easy in their room, and then they took a walk to the nearby Walmart for some supplies—crackers and Gatorade.  One big question for tomorrow, considered carefully later over dinner, has become whether to use the goo or the gummies.

It did occur to me that Keelan and Korabik seemed a little bit lonely in the big hotel without teammates.  We left school early, missing classes for most of the day.  The rest of the boys came down later, required to leave after school was over.  It would have been a different trip—and a very different group with the same boys—if the whole team was competing.

The support group here also includes our captain from last year Patrick Santino, who came in from Miami of Ohio for the big weekend in Peoria.  We ate dinner last night with Patrick and his father, Bill Santino, and then we sat with the fourteen boys (including two more Santino brothers, Brian and Dan) and assistant coach Steven Bugarin who arrived around 7:30.

The plan for this morning is to head to Detweiller around 10:00 with Keelan and Korabik.  We brought our team tent canopy, but on my run this morning, in a little bit of drizzle and cold, it occurred to me that our comfortable van might be a better place for them to spend their waiting time at the course.  They want to see the big 2A boys showdown between Jones College Prep, Belvidere North, and Glenbard South at noon.  But otherwise they will lay low.  Hiding out in the van might be a good way to keep them in a secluded place with restricted access (a suggestion from another coach) so that they can relax and do better race preparation.

They each have their race plans.  Korabik will simply position himself in the early part of the race to give himself a chance to race for an all-state spot.  I will try to give him an indication of his race place as early in the race as possible.

Keelan, one of the favorites to win the race, has picked a race plan.  He wants to win the race—and he wants a fast time.  He will run aggressively.

At 6:30 AM, the lobby of the Embassy Suites was still empty.  As I did my flexibility exercises, a woman hotel worker politely asked me for some suggestions on working out her upper arm muscles and getting better definition.  It was my first coaching of the day.

On the one hand, the hay is in the barn.  There is not much more to do.  On the other hand, there are some things to do today to close the deal.  Maybe a big part of the job today is just to keep people away so that Keelan and Korabik can focus on what they have to do.

But step one will be to see if I can maneuver our van through the traffic and find a good parking place in the middle of the morning at Detweiller.

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Filed under coaching, cross country running, IHSA, parenting, running, teaching

Boys don’t cry

The first results posted at the Niles West sectional, signed by an IHSA official, gave our Ignatius boys the fifth qualifying spot.

But Lane Tech’s results listed only six runners.  They found number seven, David Schmieg, in 44th place, using video review. Photos from













It was, in fact, too good to be true.

The results posted at around 3:15 after the IHSA Niles West sectional gave our Saint Ignatius boys cross country team the fifth and final qualifying spot for the state championship meet next week.  We had scored 183 points—a surprisingly high total to qualify.  York had dominated with five in the top fifteen to score 29, with Maine South scoring just 70 points for second place in a strong performance.  New Trier was third with 119, and Glenbard West fourth with 167.  We had beaten Lane Tech by three points—183 to 186.

We had known we might be in some trouble with a half mile to go in the race, but we also had hopes the race could still turn our way.  Standing at the far southeast corner of the Niles West sports campus, as far as you can get from the finish line in the stadium, I had scored us with 170+ points at that point.  It is a commonplace at the Niles West sectional that 150 points is a good standard to aim for when it comes to qualifying.   But there were a lot of teams in play, it seemed, for the final three qualifying spots, and I silently hoped that might inflate the score needed to qualify.

At that half mile to go mark, our senior co-captain Jack Keelan seemed to have the race in hand with an eight meter lead on Scott Milling from York.  We would score the number one.  Junior Chris Korabik was in 18th, just about right where we had hoped he would be.  Freshman Dan Santino was in 28th.  But he had beaten Korabik often during the season, and he had moved up from 36th at the half way point of the race; he seemed to be on the move.  Sophomore Andy Weber was in 44th, a bit back from where we had hoped.  Then it was a long way back to junior Taylor Dugas in 75th.   On the optimistic side, there were ten runners lined up just in front of Dugas if he could muster a strong finish.  On the darker side, Dugas had been up around 55th place at the halfway point in the race, so he was fading.

I had yelled at Santino and Weber that they needed to pass five more runners as they ran to the finish.  I told Dugas he needed ten more.  That would do it, I figured—close to 150.

We didn’t have a good finish, however, and our senior co-captain Tim Hatzopolous had unofficially scored us with 178 points as he watched the race on the finish line.   Keelan had won, Korabik was 21st, Santino 36th, Weber 43rd, and junior Patrick Manglano had passed a fading Dugas to finish around 80th as our fifth scoring runner.

In the crowd at the finish line, our boys were clearly discouraged.  We still had a chance, I told them, as I collected the chips from their shoes.  I sent them back to the field house to change out of their spikes and prepare for a cool down—and I told them to stick together.  They needed to support each other, and they needed to be together for whatever news was to come.  There was hope for us; all the scores might be high today.

But when they were gone, I had told a group of our parents at the finish area that now they could start praying for us.

At 3:15, the prayers, it seemed, had been answered.  A parent, Bill Santino, had caught a glimpse of the results as they were posted on the wall and delivered a thumbs up to us across the field house as he hurried to join us and celebrate.  We took team photographs in front of a phalanx of smiling parents.   Mike Patton, the IHSA cross country champion from Ignatius in 1980, jumped into the group for a few more photographs.  We talked to newspaper reporters.

As the good news sunk in, we made other observations.  This team would be only the third Ignatius team ever to qualify for the state meet—and Keelan, Korabik, and senior co-captain Tim Hatzoplous would be the first Ignatius runners ever to go to Peoria on two different teams.  They were all members of our 2010 qualifying team.

Our team had really come from nowhere in pre-season estimations to rise into the unofficial rankings of the state’s top teams; we were a big surprise.  Our boys had worked very hard over the last year, and now they were being rewarded.  We had not run our best this day, but our boys would have a chance to perform better the next week.  Watch out for us next week.

Along with winning our Chicago Catholic League conference meet, which we had done, it had been our goal for the season that the team would qualify and accompany Keelan in his campaign to win the state individual championship.

Our Saint Ignatius team was told we had qualified at 3:15.  And then at 3:45 we realized that we had not qualified.

A year ago at the Niles West sectional, there had been a debacle when race results had been posted prematurely before they had been reviewed and corrected by the IHSA officials.  A team, Maine South, had been told they had qualified for the state meet—only to be told later that a mistake had been made and they would not go to Peoria to run.  New procedures had been put in place, in fact, to prevent that kind of disappointment from happening again.  At the sectional meet the officials would be required to review a video of the finish, runner by runner, to verify the results from the chip timing system—just as they do at the state meet.

But at Niles West in 2012, apparently, the officials did not do a complete video review before posting the results, as they had been instructed to do.

As our celebration geared down and we started to look for the awards ceremony to begin, a buzz had begun to circulate that there was a mistake in the results that had been posted.  I was nearby, in fact, when a Niles West meet worker angrily tore the boys results off the wall, showing obvious frustration and concern.

Someone explained to me, I don’t even remember who it was, that a Lane Tech runner was missing from the results—their fourth or fifth runner.  A few minutes later Lane Tech coach Tony Jones and I had a quick and friendly conversation, and he confirmed that David Schmieg, who had finished close behind their 37th place runner Jonathan Vara, was missing from the results.

A quick calculation made it clear to us that Lane Tech would jump up in the standings when Schmieg was inserted into the scoring.  I called our boys together and gave them the bad news.   I don’t remember everything I said to them.  I do know that I began to recite the speech I would give to them individually several more times that afternoon:  Next year, we would be Maine South, who had faced this same kind of disappointment last year and who had come back this year as a possible trophy team.

The Niles West meet organizers brought me outside the field house to meet the IHSA official as he arrived by golf cart from the finish line, where he had reviewed the race video with the chip timing company representative.  Did I want to see the video, they asked me?  No, I told them, I understood what had happened.  As expected, the official confirmed that a video review of the finishers showed that the chip timing system had failed to record the finish of a Lane Tech runner, senior David Schmieg, in 44th place.  Inserting Schmieg into his rightful spot, the adjusted final scores read York 29, Maine South 70, New Trier 119, Lane Tech 165, Glenbard West 168, and Saint Ignatius sixth—and outside the last qualifying spot–with 184.

I did ask him whether they had reviewed the video before the first set of results had been posted, and I was told that they had looked at the video but only to look at the close finishes.  I did tell him that in the officials meeting I had attended last winter, it was made clear to us by IHSA administrator Ron McGraw that a full review of the finish was required at the sectional before approving and posting results.  It wasn’t clear to me that this official understood that.

I spent the next fifteen minutes circulating among our boys and their parents—and a few coaches who wanted to know what had happened.  Although I was standing nearby, I missed the awards ceremony which gave Jack Keelan his first place medal.  I was one of the last to get the news—a small silver lining—that with the adjusted results Chris Korabik had won one of the seven individual qualifier spots for Peoria with his 21st  place finish.

As the field house began to empty, some of our boys, including Keelan, were among the last to leave.  We had a conversation together where I told him that, for better or worse, he had new pressure on his back for the state meet next week.  There would be only one thing that could happen to make his teammates feel better.

Yes, Keelan acknowledged, he had a  new mission.

With the field house almost empty, Mike Newman of and Illinois Prep Harrier asked me, with his tape recorder running, whether we would lodge a protest.  Of course not, I told him.  It was unfortunate that our boys had been told we had qualified when we had not.  But Lane Tech and Glenbard West had beaten our team on the cross country course to earn their qualifying spots.

The real ethical dilemma, I suggested, would have been how we all would have responded if the video review had not been available to find the Lane Tech runner.  I had been one of those last year calling for the IHSA to institute a back up procedure for chip timed finish lines after the problems at the Niles West sectional last year.  Last year there had not been any complete video review, and there are still questions about the final results of that meet.  The new system this year had not really worked properly because the officials had not done their complete video review the first time; incorrect results had been posted.  But the correct results had been posted in the end, and there was no doubt about the correct results.

Then I went outside to make a phone call to my wife, who had been celebrating the news I had texted her an hour before that we were all going to Peoria.

When I came back inside the field house, workers were ripping tape to pull up the mats covering the gym floor.  The field house was clear except for our team camp, where there was a lonely Gatorade cooler, a forlorn frisbee, an empty box, a few pieces of trash to be picked up, some extra team warm-ups I had brought along, and my own jacket and meet backpack.  I threw away the trash and packed the other stuff in the box, and then I dragged it all out to my car.

Later last night I got a text from Tim Keelan, Jack’s father, with some good news.  A big group of boys from the team were out bowling together, and they had plans to go for a team run at Waterfall Glen in the morning.  Yes, I texted him back in agreement, this was a good sign.

Coach Steven Bugarin, freshman Dan Santino, senior Jack Keelan, junior Patrick Manglano, sophomore Andy Weber, junior Chris Korabik, junior Taylor Dugas, senior Ray Lewis, and coach Ed Ernst celebrate–for a short while–our qualification for the IHSA state meet with 1980 IHSA state champion Mike Patton (front). Photo by Tim Keelan.


Filed under coaching, cross country running, IHSA, parenting, running, teaching

A last visit with Coach Jim Connelly

Last fall former Saint Ignatius track and cross country coach Jim Connelly and his son Pete took a photo with the team at the Ignatius-Fenwick Cross Country Invitational, which in the future will be named for coaches Connelly and John Polka of Fenwick.  This year’s race takes place on Saturday, September 15 at Turtlehead Lake in Tinley Park.  Coach Polka will attend–and we hope to make it a special day in memory of Coach Jim Connelly.  All friends of Saint Ignatius Cross Country and Track–and of Coach Connelly–are invited!

It is Tuesday night, August 28, and I just returned from a visit with Jim Connelly, the Illinois Hall of Fame track and cross country coach who preceded me at Saint Ignatius.

[Edit:  On Wednesday evening, August 29, news came from the Connelly family that Jim had died in the afternoon.  Details about the service arrangements are added at the bottom of this post.]

Almost two months ago Jim Connelly suffered a serious stroke.  He recovered to enter rehabilitation, but complications including pneumonia returned him to hospital care a couple weeks ago.

About a week ago, his family brought him home to Villa Park under hospice care.  The family living room where he and his wife Sue nurtured their fifteen biological and adoptive children–and thirty-two foster children–has become a room for Jim’s hospital bed, and his family is gathered around him.  When I visited for an hour or so this evening, that family included his sons Kevin, Tim, Tom, Pat, Terry, Pete, and Bobby, as well as daughters Honey and Mary—plus spouses and grandchildren.  Jim is not completely responsive, but there is a sense among his family that he knows who is around him.  They talk to him, and they invite guests to talk to him.  They asked me to tell Jim about the prospects for our team this season:  “That’s what he really wants to hear about.  And how is grandson Joey running?” said Tim Connelly.   But he seemed most excited at the loud sounds of his grandchildren, it seemed to me.  His family is working hard to make him as comfortable as they can make him.

But it is also clear that this is now a family vigil for the man that many of us will always know as Coach Connelly.  On the dining room table photos, letters, clippings, and other memorabilia have been arranged for viewing.  The items include Connelly’s Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame plaque and many photos of his teams.  Sue Connelly, Jim’s wife, was particularly excited about a framed photo that had just arrived from Jim’s sister Irene; Irene and Jim are formally dressed as very young children, standing with the Balto statue in New York City’s Central Park.

I spent much of my hour talking with Sue Connelly.  She spoke thankfully about the communications and visits from his Ignatius students and track athletes.  Trevor and Drew Orsinger, brother members of an outstanding group of pole vaulters Connelly developed in the 1990s, were among the first visitors when he came home.  They reported that he was wearing an Ignatius track jacket for their visit.  John Lillig, who coached with Jim in two separate tours as an Ignatius teacher, has been a regular visitor.  Mark Floreani, founder and one of Coach Connelly’s prize runners, made a special visit from Austin, Texas, to see him in the hospital last week.

Sue Connelly passéd around a card she had received that day from Chris Serb, a runner for Ignatius from the class of 1988.  Serb thanked Jim for teaching him to run and work hard.  But he also noted that in 2007, when his track athletes threw a summer party for Coach Connelly downtown at Lizzie McNeil’s on the Chicago River, Serb actually met his future wife there—Emily Cosgrove, who had taught English and coached the girls’ track and cross country teams at Ignatius.  So he gave his coach credit for that happiness, too.

Connelly was a year or so out of coaching when I started at Ignatius in 2003.  Lillig had replaced him as both track and cross country head coach, but he gave up the track job right when I arrived—and then gave up the cross country job a few years later.  It meant something to me to take the job from them, because I knew they wouldn’t give it up to just anybody.  While I didn’t directly replace Connelly as Ignatius coach, he was still teaching at Ignatius and was available for me to talk to when I took over the job.  He never offered advice or comments that were unsolicited.  He always tried to give helpful answers when I asked him questions or posed problems to him.

Connelly came to coaching rather late in his life.  As I calculate it, he was almost my age–about fifty years of age–when he started coaching track at Ignatius, almost, it seems, as a final career move.  So Connelly’s tenure was really a rather short one for a Hall of Fame head coach—around thirteen years, perhaps, from 1987 to 2000.  His athletes and teams had great success under his coaching, but it seems likely to me that the respect other coaches held for him came more from their high regard for him as a person—and especially as a father.  Sue and Jim Connelly’s generous work as foster and adoptive parents are well known.  In 2002 they were awarded the Family Exemplar Award by Notre Dame University, where Jim went to college.  Jim was also honored in 1994 with the top honor Ignatius offers to anyone affiliated with the school, the Dei Gloriam Award.

I felt a closer bond with Jim Connelly, perhaps, when my wife and I adopted our two children from Vietnam in 2007.

Connelly was forthright and a man of principle.  As I heard it, students would receive a jug detention for being tardy for class if they were not already in their seats ready for class when the bell rang; passing through the doorway did not count.  He was notoriously old school–and even new school students didn’t mind, perhaps, because they learned so much in his classes.

Sue Connelly reviewed Jim’s professional career with me:   He spent a few unsatisfied years as an engineer at U.S. Steel, and then a few more at Western Electric, when he had also begun taking classes that he hoped would earn him a job teaching high school history.   He was correct that teaching would be his calling.  As it happened, the first job that was offered him, at DeLaSalle, asked him to teach mathematics, as well as history.  Four years later in 1967, Connelly, who was a graduate of New York City’s Jesuit high school Regis, took a job at Saint Ignatius, where he continued to teach both math and history until his retirement in 2008.

Above all, as his athletes attest, Jim Connelly was a man of strong Catholic faith and belief.  His commitment as an adoptive father was simple and practical and faith driven.  Children without parents to care for them still need the support and love of a family.  Sue and Jim Connelly were always willing to do what they could for children facing such a need.  Jim also recognized that as the family adopted more children, the children already in the family had to make sacrifices—and in doing so they shared the commitment of their parents, too.

In conversation with Pete Connelly, who has followed his father’s footsteps to coach girls cross country and boys and girls track at Montini,  he remembered that his father had often said his time on earth might be best judged by the good work his children would do in the world.  It was both a challenge and a blessing, it would seem, for Connelly’s children to have a father who was such a man of faith.

After he retired as a coach at Ignatius, Jim Connelly would still regularly show up at our track meets.  He always had a stop watch and a pad of paper.  When we missed a split that I needed, from a relay, for example, I would often go to Connelly, who was likely to have it scrawled on his pad.  He was attending meets before his grandson Jimmy joined our team as a freshman in 2006.  A varsity cross country and track runner as a freshman, Jimmy went on to captain our teams and run 4:19 for 1600 meters, winning a sectional championship in 2010.  Coach Connelly’s attendance at our meets was probably best when Jimmy was running.

He probably was not as regular at attending meets in recent years when he had retired from teaching at Ignatius and had volunteered to help Pete Connelly coach at Montini.  Jimmy had graduated.  But at that point he also had to attend the Montini meets—although he still made it to a few of ours, as well.

With another grandson, Jimmy’s sophomore brother Joey, on the team now, we were hoping to see more of Coach Connelly the next few years.

Jim Connelly’s years of enjoying retirement, it seems, will be too short.  When I heard someone ask him whether he liked being retired  a couple years ago, he answered in his gruff and direct way, “Should have done it a long time ago!”

Whatever the magic is that makes athletes devoted to their coaches, Jim Connelly had it.  As a new coach at Saint Ignatius, I took my first group of ten or so boys to the state track meet in 2004.  Connelly and Lillig had been their coaches the previous three years.  After rousting them early for Saturday morning breakfast, I listened as a fly on the wall while the boys sat around the table for an hour telling Coach Connelly stories.

I remember thinking that I hoped someday boys would have stories like that to tell about me.


Service arrangements for Coach Connelly:

Friday, August 31, 2012
2:00 to 8:00 PM
St. Alexander Church
300 South Cornell Avenue
Villa Park, IL 60181
Phone: 630-833-7730

Funeral Mass:
Saturday, September 1, 2012
10:00 AM
St. Alexander Church
300 South Cornell Avenue
Villa Park, IL 60181


A more formal obituary, from Jim Connelly’s family:

James Connelly, Devoted Teacher, Father of 16 and Hall of Fame Coach, Dies at 78

                James Vincent Connelly entered eternal life August 29, 2012 following complications from a stroke.  He passed to eternal life surrounded by family at home in Villa Park, where he was a resident for 37 years.

Born in New York City on June 13, 1934, Jim Connelly attended Regis High School and graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Civil Engineering and the designation of Outstanding Bengal Bouts Boxer in 1956.

After his devotion to God and his family, Mr. Connelly’s greatest vocation was teaching.  His engineering career was short and he began teaching at De La Salle Institute in 1963.  In 1967, he joined the faculty at St. Ignatius College Prep where he taught Mathematics, History and Political Science for the next 41 years and coached track and cross country for 23 years.  He taught and coached nearly 10,000 scholars and athletes, including 59 state championship qualifiers.  Jim was inducted into the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame and the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Among his awards were the Joseph B. Whitehead Educator of Distinction Award, the Dei Gloriam Award from St. Ignatius, the Family Exemplar Award from the University of Notre Dame and several Educator of the Year Awards from St. Ignatius.  He also served as the school board president at Our Lady Help of Christians School on the west side of Chicago and at St. Alexander School in Villa Park.

In letters, emails and spoken testimony, scores of his students identified Jim Connelly as the best teacher they had ever had, and cited him as an inspiration in their lives.

A devout Catholic, Jim and his wife Susan raised eight biological children, adopted seven more and were foster parents to several dozen other children. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Sue (nee Shapley) of Gary, Indiana and by 16 children, along with numerous others who stayed in the Connelly home and called him “Dad.”  His children include Patrick, Susan Linville, Peter (Monica), Frank, Timothy (Kari), Kevin (Sarita), Thomas (Katie), Mary O’Malley (Timothy), Nora O’Hara (Michael), Terence (Reshelle), Jason, Christine Fallenstein (Thomas), Timothy Montgomery, Robert, James and Melissa.  He is also survived by sister Irene Sullivan (Robert), brothers John (Susan) and Edward (Peggy) and 22 grandchildren.  He was preceded in death by his daughter Tynia.

A funeral mass of Christian burial will be held on Saturday, September 1, 2012 at 10:00am at St. Alexander Catholic Church, 300 S. Cornell Avenue, Villa Park, Illinois.  A wake will be held at St. Alexander Catholic Church on Friday, August 31, 2012 from 2:00pm to 9:00pm.  In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to St. Alexander School Tuition Assistance Fund, 136 S. Cornell, Villa Park, IL, to Easter Seals, 830 S. Addison Avenue, Villa Park, IL or to the Pro-Life Action League, 6160 N. Cicero Avenue, Chicago, IL 60646.


Filed under coaching, high school track and field, parenting

Blogging from the state meet

Junior Jack Keelan, shown here winning the IHSA Saint ignatius Sectional 3200 meter run last week, is one of the favorites in the 3200-meter run at the state meet this weekend. Photo by Steven Bugarin.

We’re back in Carman Hall on the campus of Eastern Illinois University, in Charleston, IL, with rooms on  the second floor, after a dinner trip to Pagliacci’s family style restaurant in Matoon and a trip to the Matoon Walmart.

The six boys with us are currently down in the first floor lounge playing ping-pong and watching the Heat vs. Pacers game on a big screen television.  I’m in my room, listening with some concern to a very loud group of boys who share the floor with us.  It is 9:30, on our first night in the dorm.  I wonder how loud they will be tomorrow night, when many boys are eliminated from competition and no longer have races to run.  We have at least one boy that we know will be racing on Saturday, and he will need his sleep tomorrow night.

Earlier in the day we drove a school mini-bus down from Saint Ignatius in Chicago, stopping at the Subway travel stop in Ashkum, between Kankakee and Champaign; we bumped into the team from Chicago’s Jones College Prep there (we would later see them again at Pagliacci’s!).  We arrived around 3:00 to Charleston, checked in to get rooms in a dormitory, and then went to the track to practice.

At the crowded and busy track, our distance runners did a few laps, got frustrated by the crowds and did a big lap of the fields, and then jogged back to the dorm.  Our hurdler, Conor Dunham, and I set up intermediate hurdles on the 300 marks, and then, while I tried to keep the lane clear for a few moments, Conor ran over two or three hurdles at a time, working our way around the track.  Meanwhile, pole vaulter Elliot Gibson worked with Coach Pat Boyle on the pole vault runway, battling a big wind that, even on this hot day, several times threatened to blow over the pole vault standards.

It has been a busy day.

My day started by taking my kids Luc and Maisie to school, a daily task that usually falls to their mother, since she teaches at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.  But Peggy went to the Pretty Lake Adventure Center in Kalamazoo, MI, on an overnight camping trip with her seventh grade students, leaving me the school drop off job; Peggy will be home in time to pick them up from their after school program at 5:00.  After school drop off,  I went to Ignatius to teach my 8:00 and 9:00 classes, before leaving in our van at 11:15 or so with six underclass boys.

Another group of four boys will come down tomorrow with two more coaches, after they attend the Baccalaureate Mass tonight for our graduating seniors.  Because I am on the road, I miss that event.

The time on the track was perhaps a highlight.  Our boys were all business.  They seem focused and serious about the task at hand.  By the way, I also snuck in a mile of my own while we were just, just to get my run in for the day.

On the van ride down from Chicago, Jack Keelan and I talked again about our big decision—should he run the 1600 preliminary heats on Friday to qualify for that race final on Saturday?  On Saturday, he will first run the 3200-meter run, a race without a prelim, at 1:00 or so.  The predicted 95 degree heat for Friday and Saturday plays into our decision.  The strength of the field in both races also seems to weigh against running both races and doing well in both.  But Keelan has decided he wants to run both—and I am agreed, in part because whatever the decision, Keelan has to believe in it.

We also talked some strategy, and it has struck me that we really have a simple goal for the weekend:  In all three of his races, Keelan will try to run the last 800 meters of each race under 2:05.  If he can do that on Friday afternoon off a reasonable pace—a 2:10 first 800, say—he can run 4:15 or so, a time which should qualify him for the finals on Saturday.  If he can do that off a fast pace on Saturday in the 3200—after a 4:30 to 4:35 for the first 1600 meters—he should have a chance to win the race.  If he can do it again on Friday, in the 1600, off a more aggressive pace—under 2:10—he might have a chance to medal in that race, as well.

Our sophomore hurdler Dunham also has a chance to make it through the prelims to run on Saturday.  His 38.99 seconds race at the sectional last week was a personal best by a full second; it ranks him tenth on the qualifying list at the state meet.  He will have to beat at least one of the runners ranked ahead of him–and all the runners chasing behind him–to run on Saturday.

We have the slowest qualifying time of all the teams in the 4×800 relay, 8:14.95.  But we know we can run faster—maybe a lot faster.  Last year we came to state with a slower qualifying time, 8:19, and ran 8:01.  Our goal tomorrow is to run under 8:00—and beat some teams.  We will do this, in part, with a lineup change.  Our senior co-captain, Patrick Santino, did not qualify in the 3200 last week, so he is available to run the 4×800.  He ran our fastest leg at the Chicago Catholic League meet, 2:01.3, and he can run faster.  He will be joined by sophomore Taylor Dugas, junior Elliot Gibson, and senior co-captain Mike Tonner.  None of these boys has ever broken 2:00 for 800 meters, but they could do so tomorrow.

Finally, Dunham will also run the 110 high hurdles tomorrow, where he is one of the slower qualifiers; but it will be a good warm up for him.  Gibson will also compete in the pole vault; his best vault is 12 feet; the starting height at the state meet will be 13 feet and 6 inches.  Sophomore Chris Korabik will compete with Keelan in the 1600 meter, where he also has the slowest qualifying time in the race, 4:28.  We expect he will run faster, too.

My day tomorrow should start with a 6:00 am run, a tradition for me here at the state meet and one that I will enjoy more than previous recent years because I am in fact running regularly.   We’ll roust the boys at 8:00 and try to get to breakfast before 9:00 at What’s Cooking in downtown Charleston.

More from the state meet tomorrow night!


Filed under coaching, high school track and field, IHSA, parenting, running, teaching

Happy endings


Saint Ignatius College Prep senior Patrick Santino will attend Miami University of Ohio next year on a athletics grant-in-aid scholarship.  Santino, center, with Ignatius Track and Cross Country Coach Ed Ernst and father Bill Santino, will run on the Miami cross country and track teams.

“Patrick has been a team leader who has set an example to younger runners that if you put in the work, you will get the results,” said Ernst.  “He’s made big strides every year at Ignatius.”

Team captain for both cross country and track and field as a senior for the Wolfpack, Santino  finished second at the Illinois Prep Top Times indoor championship meet in March, running a personal best time of 9 minutes and 17.94 seconds, the fourth fastest time in Illinois during the indoor season and the top time in the Chicago Catholic League.

“We look forward to having Patrick with our program over the next few years,” said Warren Mandrell, head coach for cross country and track and field at Miami. “It looks like he will be part of a great recruiting class this year.  I am excited about the future of these guys.”

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Filed under coaching, cross country running, high school track and field, parenting, running

Priorities: What I did today

Sign for our team bulletin board

We return to school tomorrow after the Christmas holiday.  My wife and children returned to the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools already on Tuesday.

Luc had appointments in the afternoon on Tuesday and Wednesday, which I handled.  But otherwise I had some time on those days to do some things that I needed to do.

Today I made a short visit to Saint Ignatius in the middle of the day.  There wasn’t much going on.  The varsity girls basketball team was just beginning practice when I arrived—and they were still practicing when I left a couple hours later.

I have lots of things to do to get ready for class tomorrow—including grading and class preparations that I didn’t get done over the vacation.

But what did I spend my time doing today?

I made posters to put up on the school bulletin boards announcing the first day of track practice on Tuesday, January 17.

I also took the cross country information off of our team bulletin board in the gym outside the locker rooms, and I posted new material for the upcoming track season—including several posters.

I checked my email.  Several members of my team had responded to an email I sent a few days ago asking them to evaluate some PDFs of possible uniform styles for them to consider.  Patrick Santino, one of my team captains for track, responded enthusiastically:  “I LOVE RUNNING FASHION!”

I also made a visit to the school switchboard to check on the Federal Express package that is bringing me two new pairs of running shoes from an online order I made a few days ago.

On the drive back from Saint Ignatius to Hyde Park, I stopped on the lakefront and ran for 30 minutes on the bicycle trail from 31st Street Beach, north behind McCormick Place to Soldier Field, and a return.

I had just enough time to take a shower and pick Luc up from school to take him to his 2:30 appointment at the medical center.

I will have to wake up early tomorrow to get a few necessary things done, and then get to school early in order to be ready for my 8:00 AM class.

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Filed under coaching, parenting, running, teaching