I absolutely love the fall, particularly October here in the Midwest. The colors of the changing leaves, the cooler air, and maybe best of all, the high school playoffs are just around the corner. Of course, www.chiefpigskin.com is all about high school football, and it’s an exciting time of year, but there was a long period in my life I enjoyed another sport in the fall besides football. Cross country. Yes, cross country. Now what’s an old football coach doing writing about cross country?
Well, it’s like this. I had three daughters, Angela, Olivia, and Natalie, who ran cross country in junior high and high school. They were spread out enough in age that they all went through high school separately. That’s at least twelve years of watching cross country meets. I couldn’t go to the meets during the week, they were right after school and I was coaching at football practice. But I could make their Saturday morning meets and that’s what I did. My daughters were really sprinters and excelled at track, earning some place medals at the state meet, but used cross country as a way to stay in shape in the off-season. It was good for their physical conditioning as well as mental. I’ve always taken pride in how tough football players are but I’ll tell you something, cross country runners have to be mentally tough. That three mile race is a grind and they run hard. My daughters were solid team members and always ran in the top five of the team. The Saturday meets were usually large invitationals and a lot of fun to watch. The atmosphere was completely different than Friday night. Friday night football was always intense, hard hitting, emotional, and draining. It was under the lights, cool, and the game lasted two hours. A cross country race lasts about twenty minutes and the atmosphere is pretty relaxed most of the time (unless you’re a runner). It gets a little intense at the finish, especially for a parent.
On a typical Saturday my wife and I would get up around 7:00 a.m. for a 9:00 a.m. cross country meet. Most of the meets would be around thirty to forty five minutes away. It was usually a bright, sunny, crisp fall morning and we would be out the door by 7:30. On the way to the meet, we would stop and get some coffee to go. Ahh, tasted so good! Arriving at the meet site around 8:30 or so I would find my daughter and talk to her briefly about how she was feeling and say good luck. Not sure why I wished her luck, I don’t believe in luck, but it’s something we say at times. As I walked around with my cup of coffee, there would always be some parents there watching their kids run who had been at the game the night before and we’d talk a little football. Of course, if we won the previous night, I enjoyed the conversations a lot more. By race time I would have a good spot picked out near the starting line to watch my daughter(s) take off. When you’ve got a hundred runners or so lining up at the start, it’s quite a sight. The beginning was fun to watch as the whole mob of runners would try to get as good of a start as possible. The frontrunners would try to get out quickly and get a lead. The rest of the pack would settle in just behind and try to stay close. We’d watch them disappear around the first bend and take a sip of that last drop of coffee. After watching the start it was jog or walk quickly to another spot on the course that we could cheer for the girls as they ran by. Courses usually wind around streets and parks so you have to select spots you can get to before the runners get there. As we waited, we just enjoyed the morning and my wife and I would talk about how we thought our daughter was running or just strain our eyes looking for the pack to appear. Soon the runners would come by our carefully marked spot and we’d yell encouragement as our team members ran by. After watching most of the runners go by us, it was a jog to the finish line to cheer them home. I didn’t usually get right at the finish, I would pick a spot about two hundred yards from the finish so I could give them some encouragement for that final push. It was cool to watch the runners finish and sprint with what they had left for the final push to the chutes.
After about twenty minutes, the race was over. There would always be kids milling around near the finish getting water, finding their warm-ups, talking to the coach or patting their teammates on the back. We’d find our daughter and let her know we watched the finish, tell her she ran well and give her a high five or a hug.
Now it was time to head home. By this time the sun was warming things up a little more and it was turning into another beautiful autumn day. I always found this a good way to unwind from the night before. Home by eleven, time for chores around the house and watch some game film. Time to start getting ready for next Friday nights opponent. No wonder I love the fall.