In about four different cars the men’s cross country team of Springfield High pulled into the parking lot of Cinders. As serendipity would have it, the girls’ team was already in the queue for their post-workout refueling.
-You guys not going inside?
-For just ice cream, Casey asked.
-It’s too nice out to sit inside.
-But the line is so long out here.
-Who cares? The only thing waiting for us is homework.
Smitty and some of the upperclassmen sidled up next to Casey, Lindsey, Maggie, and the others. Wallan was with them too.
-What do you think you’re doing, Maggie interrogated Jenkins.
-Just talking to some fast young ladies?
-I don’t think so.
-You’re trying to cut the line.
-Oh come on, Casey, don’t be such a –
-Such a what, Smitty?
-Yeah, Smitty, such a what?
Galiozzi came over and put his arm around Smitty’s shoulder. He turned him around and walked him to the back of the line. He stole a glance at the giggling trio.
The Springfield cross country program was one of several in the state that had separate coaches for the men’s and women’s teams. Just prior to Hartman’s arrival in the early eighties, in the height of the running boom, the squads got so big that each needed its own coach. Since then, the rosters have contracted but the two coaches have remained. Hartman thought this good for his boys. The peacock bravado did still exist among them but opportunities to display their feathers were mitigated due to the separation, which of course lead to the boys not quite knowing how to act in front of girls they respected, were attracted to, and had something in common with. Put on top of that Hartman’s tacit disdain for what he called “cross pollination of the teams,” and the boys were hopeless. For many of them the girls’ team provided their only opportunity to interact with the opposite sex and to have that innate desire compromised by an unspoken axiom from a man they respected made them awkward and ungainly in front of the sirens.
No matter what these girls thought about the boys as individuals, one vision of them they did share: there was an admiration, even a jealousy of their accomplishments. The men’s season always ended a few weeks later than theirs. Hartman knew why, the boys knew why, and the girls knew why. They put in the work. They did the interval sessions, the long runs, the tempos. The girls would do it if they were told to, but in a world where nobody is pushing and challenging and demanding, doing that hard work on one’s own volition just isn’t happening. One or two, sure, but the majority of the team? No way.
Pawgoski got an ice cream, and even worse, Sellberg got one with sprinkles on it and the ribbing ensued. Torres, Hammond, and everybody else conveniently neglected to tell the bluebirds that the team only ordered milkshakes. Not ice-cream. The ice-cream and frozen yogart were for the girls and the milkshakes and frappes were for the boys.
-Hey, I like the texture of the jimmies, Sellberg said.
-Does little Bribri like sprinklewinkles on his ice cream cone?
The girls laughed and Sellberg roused. Pawgoski tried to hide and eat as quickly as possible.
-Look at Paws. He’s got one too.
-Is that a kiddie cone for the little peach fuzz baby?
-The what, Maggie asked.
-Haven’t you heard? Peach fuzz babies. That’s what Hartman’s calling them these days.
The girls thought that a hoot. Casey even tried it out.
-Peach fuzz babies. I wish my legs were more like his cute little cheeks. Then I wouldn’t have to shave for a month.
More giggles from the girls. Sellberg just took it. What else could he do? Paws drifted to a corner and stewed that he ordered such a stupid thing. He was saved by Torres’ change of topic.
-So you guys didn’t have a camp week.
-Oh we had one, but it wasn’t really camp.
-You stayed in Springfield, right?
-Yup, you could hear the disappointment in Lindsey’s voice.
-What did you guys do?
-Well, we ran the course a couple of days.
-We did go to the Riverway one day, Casey said.
-Well, what did Hartman put you through this year?
-Oh, nothing too bad. Nothing we couldn’t handle.
And on and on they went. They talked and talked and procrastinated from homework in the way only high school students can. So long after the ice cream had been eaten and the milkshakes consumed the two teams clustered under the parking lot lights. They laughed, they flirted, they told stories about their summers and their first days of school. They clung like red leaves to stories of common teachers and summertime jokes. Not often did they have a chance to mix; each member of each team savored and seemed happy for the chance.