Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chapter 29: Skyhawk Jamboree

Beads of Sweat is a novel about a high school cross country team.  To access prior chapters, click on the fiction tab at the top of the page.

Saturday morning and high schoolers from across the state and beyond congregate to the campus of Stonehill College for the annual Skyhawk Jamboree.  In the whole nation, this is the only cross-country specific event of its kind. 

Still, Hartman debated its merits.  His reservations lay in that attending it meant losing a quality day of training, but ultimately and with the cajoling of his athletic director and even some upperclassmen—Galiozzi in particular—he decided to take his runners to The Hill, as those familiar with the college nicknamed it.  He rationalized that the outing provided an opportunity for his boys to hear about training from somebody other than him, and it also allowed some of them to visit a college campus and hopefully get the bug for collegiate life.  If they didn’t get the bug at Starkfield State during camp week, well maybe this little liberal arts school would do the trick.

            The two-hour morning session consisted of informational workshops and seminars all related to particular aspects of training and racing.  The Stonehill coach was instrumental in setting up these stations and recruited other college coaches (mostly assistants) to help facilitate the workshops.  Her team members aided those coaches with anything they needed. 

            The Yellowjackets split themselves according to their own interests.  Hartman let them know their choices on Friday.  You get to pick three he told them.
·         How to Pick the Right Shoe for You
·         Stretching: What to Do and When to Do It
·         The Finishing Kick: Pick up Valuable Points in Your Final Sprint
·         Learning to Ward off Mid-Race Apathy
·         Cross-Training: Do the Right Stuff
·         Your Core is Not a Bore: Get a 6-pack and Run Faster
·         Film Study: Watch the Great Ones

After the seminars, all the teams gathered in plenary in the field house.  The indoor track and tennis center was a marvel in itself and if Johnson set this whole day up for the sole intention of recruiting, taking them to the Jennings Memorial Field House was her coup de grace.  A four lane banked track, stadium seating, a jumbotron and track meet specific scoreboard.  Wow!

            Over forty teams attended and when they all field in and took their seats, Heidi Johnson gave a brief speech.  She spoke mostly in motivational clichés to the affect of work hard and you’ll do great.  She told them that someday—if they worked hard enough—she might be knocking on their door and offering them a full scholarship to run for her.  As proof, she then delved into an anecdote about Michael Nye and how he transformed from a fat, lazy frosh who joined the team on a lost bet to a svelte senior who took the last qualifying slot to become an All-American.  The kids hooped and hollered when she finished her speech, mainly because they were enjoying the experience as opposed to the effects of Johnson’s single monologue.  When the cheering waned, right on cue she brought the house lights down and directed everyone to the jumbotron.  On it scrolled a slideshow of high school cross-country runners, a montage of last season.  The kids screamed their cords off when a runner wearing their singlet appeared on the screen.  The images were set to music but one couldn’t possibly hear it over the ululating surges of the crowd.  The Jackets clapped and stamped their feet and shouted as loud as they could when a picture of Mebkay, hands in a V, crossed the jumbotron.  The runners breathed life into Jennings; he was once again alive and electrified.  One team’s enthusiasm fed on another’s and another’s.  By the end of the fifteen minutes, everyone in the place, coaches included, was primed for a PR.  Hartman smiled that twisted smile of his.  A football crazed city, his Springfield boys often suffered a Napoleon complex.  Here they got to see a place where cross was boss.  He knew he made the correct decision.  Even if Woodbury was off at the MacIntyre Classic and winning it hands down. 

            Straight from the bleachers Johnson led them out of the track and tennis center and into the bright sun for the day’s concluding activity: a run over the women’s 6k cross country course which just so happened to be the sight of this year’s NCAA Division II national championship meet.  Johnson’s own team, both men and women, joined the secondary schoolers for their jaunt.  For the only time this year Hartman joined his crew, and they did the whole 6k together as a unit.  Keeping the reins on Smitty, Coetaine, and Pawgoski wasn’t easy especially given that Paddington ran a few groups ahead.  Jenkins, though, still one-stepped his teammates. 

            -Take a good look at their backs now, Hammond said to no one in particular, because it’s the only time you’ll be seeing them this year. 
            -That’s right.
            -Damn right.
            -No doubt.
            -We’ll toast them when it counts.

            The coach enjoyed listening to the bravado but what he relished was arête.  Quiet, humble runners who spoke with their legs, not their mouths, appealed more to him than the guys who ran their mouths and never showed up on race day.  He’d talk to them about that later.  At least for now he took solace in that their mouths only ran to each other. 

            After two kilometers or so the jumbotron hysteria simmered down and the pace regressed to recovery speed.  The banter, however, kept up and Jenkins couldn’t say enough about the film study class.

            -The videos were pretty badass.
            -What’d they show?
            -A whole bunch of shit.
            -Like what?
            -Ah, I dunno…
            Paws jumped in, they showed Pre’s ’72 Olympic race.
            -Oh yeah, that’s right.  Pre’s Olympic 5000 in Munich.
            -He won gold, right?
            -No.  What place did he come in Paws?
            -He did?  He didn’t medal?
            -Nope.  But he ran his balls off.
            -He knew he didn’t have the kick to match the Europeans so with like two laps to go he started his kick, an all out sprint.  He ran his ass off but lost it in the last 200.  You could tell his tank was empty and he kept pushing but there was nothing left.

            -What’s so good about that?
            -Are you kiddin me?  The dude went for it.  He threw caution to the wind.  He took a huge risk.  He could’ve easily won bronze but he went for the gold.  It was all or nothing with that guy.

            They jogged quietly for a few steps. 

            -The Goucher stuff was pretty badass, too, Paws said.
            -Oh yeah, Jenkins confirmed and proceeded to tell the story of Adam Goucher’s national championship race.  He crouched down on the starting line in this business-like I’m going to war way.  He was giving off this vibe that said don’t F with me.  One of the Stonehill guys even said that the necklace he wore was made of shrunken skulls that represented all of the opponents he would conquer.  Nasty.  Ultimate badass.  He crushed it.  He took no prisoners.  He killed it.

            The story telling was riling up the guys and they passed two teams. 

            -Let’s keep it in check.  We have a long run tomorrow.

            They didn’t slow.  They maintained.  Even Deo, the disciplined one, was having a hard time keeping it slow.  He edged to the front of the pack.

            -Hey Deo.
            -What’s that?
            -Are you wearing two t-shirts?
            -Where’d you get that?

            Deo wore a Stonehill XC Skyhawks jersey over his other one.  A little big for him, the t-shirt hung over his shorts almost like a skirt.

            -I won it this morning.
            -Trivia questions, Coetaine said, the kid’s a genius.
            Gales and Torres offered a few playful shoves before bribing him for his prize. 
            -It doesn’t even fit you, one of them said.

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