Farewell To Freshmen Year

This piece, written and edited by Glen Hazelwood, is a submission from track parent.  He originally submitted work to us in XC, with "Musings of A Rookie XC Dad," and has continued to support the running community through his articles "Top Ten Things to Love About The Armory" and "Top Ten P.O.V. On A Track Team."  We encourage you to check them all out.

This piece, written and edited by Glen Hazelwood, is a submission from track parent.  He originally submitted work to us in XC, with "Musings of A Rookie XC Dad," and has continued to support the running community through his articles "Top Ten Things to Love About The Armory" and "Top Ten P.O.V. On A Track Team."  We encourage you to check them all out.


When Kyle came to me with the idea for this piece and asked me if I wanted to do it, I said "Absolutely, yes." without hesitation. I'm a huge Milesplit NY fan and Kyle's been great to work with on the other articles I've done, so I'm always happy to help out when I can. But afterwards, I started having second thoughts as to whether or not I was the right person to do a "Farewell to Freshman Year" piece. Yes...I do have a freshman, and therefore have some experience with the care, feeding and raising of one. But the truth is, my freshmen didn't really have a "typical" freshman year. He was fortunate enough to have some opportunities and go to some meets that a lot of freshmen do not, and I wondered if that would distort my observations looking back on the year.

But, after not too much further thought, I realized that the important stuff...the really, really good stuff from your freshmen year on the track team…does not necessarily happen on the track or in the discus circle or long jump pit. The really good stuff is in the experiences you've had and the people you've met. It's not so much about how fast you can run around a track as a 9th grader as it is about the path you've been guided toward for the next few years by those people and those experiences. And it's about what you've discovered about yourself, not only as an athlete but as a person as well.

There are a million different metrics for success in life, and more specifically, in this sport. The most obvious being, was your athletic performance at the end of the season better than it was on your first day? The simple answer to that is if you long jumped 15' on the first day of practice, and then long jumped 15'6" in your last meet…then yes, you succeeded, and good for you. But if that's all you took from your season, then you're probably not looking back hard enough and you're really missing a lot.

I think if I could sit down with my own frosh for an hour and just ask him a bunch of questions about what he thinks about this past year, this article would pretty much write itself. If you're a parent reading this, you're probably chuckling right now at the prospect of getting a 15yr old to sit still with you for an hour, much less answer your questions. It's sorta like herding cats, I know. But setting reality aside for now, these are some of the things I'd ask him as a parent, and some of the things I'd hope that you outgoing freshmen might ask yourselves moving forward.


Did you learn anything this year?

Might as well go for the classic "big teenage eye roll" right off the bat, I guess. And it is a silly question, really. Of course you learned things. No offense, but at age 15, your brain is still pretty empty and your capacity for learning is tremendous. You can't help but learn almost constantly…whether you like it or not! But think outside the box and past the obvious about what you learned.

Did you learn that no matter how good an athlete you are now, or how good you may end up being later, school absolutely comes before track? Because trust me on this one….there are a heck of a lot more accountants, engineers, chefs, teachers and salespeople out there then there are professional track athletes. Getting good grades and going to college should be "Plan A". Being a pro track athlete should be like "Plan G".

Did you learn early on that a high school track coach is a pretty busy person and really doesn't have a whole lot of time for frosh questions like, "Will I be All-County?" (Probably not), "When should I eat my banana?" (When you're hungry) or "Will there be drug testing at this meet?" (No….and why do you need to know that?!?!?)

Did you learn (perhaps the hard way) that it sucks a lot when you miss the pole vault pit, or (perhaps the hard way) that it's the start line and not the finish line that's different between the mile and the 1600m….and that listening more closely to the aforementioned busy coach would ultimately make any further lessons a whole lot easier?

These are all good freshmen "learns", although to keep the peace at home I'll hold off on saying which if any of them actually did or did not occur, and there are a million more. And I'll bet if you think about it, you'll find that you learned a lot more than you thought you did during your freshmen year.


Did you make friends this year that you might not have made without track?

Track and field is a very social sport by nature. In most team sports, you go to your game, play it, shake hands with the other team and go home. In track, you go to meets and do your event/events and then end up with plenty of time left over to socialize while the rest of the meet goes on. Also, being predominantly an individual sport, kids from other schools are far more likely to become actual personalities to you instead of just being a name and a number that you're trying to tackle. And lastly, because of the wide array of skill sets required for all the different events, as well as the sheer size of many teams, track tends to attract a pretty diverse group of kids. So it stands to reason that you'd meet and become friends with a fairly wide variety of people, from different backgrounds and from different schools, who you may not have met just by walking around the halls at your school or body checking into the boards in a hockey game.

While there are certainly no scientific algorithms that conclusively prove the diversity dynamic, I can share some personal experience. Right off the top of my head, I can tell you about three people who were freshmen with me over 30 years ago that I'm still in touch with on a fairly regular basis. One was a nerdy, brainy middle distance kid named Dave who is now an expatriate living and raising a family in Amsterdam. The second was a fairly typical "girl next door" type runner who is now a retired Air Force Major. And the third was a 6'5, guitar playing pole-vaulter named Josh who now makes a living as a musician and lives on a farm in Woodstock, NY. That speaks pretty well to the diversity of our sport, not to mention the potential longevity of the friendships you're cultivating now.

Think about the friends you've met this year as a frosh, and those you'll meet as you continue on with your high school track career, and thank the sport for bringing them into your life.


Did you build character during your freshman track season?

A persons character is one of lifes greatest intangibles. Character is completely open to a variety of definitions and interpretations, evaluated differently by different people and as unique as a snowflake in its individual embodiment. But, in my opinion, the fundamentals of character remain constant; things like winning with grace and losing with dignity…finding a role, or having one defined for you, and fulfilling that role to best of your ability…making commitments or promises and going on to do your best to stick to them.

That all sounds very grandiose, but when you get right down to it, it's the little lessons that sort of almost "sneak up" on you that build character in young person. One of my favorite moments of this year past season was like that. It was at The Loucks Games, which if you don't know of it is a pretty prestigious New York meet held at White Plains High School. It was easily Kevin's best weekend of the year, where he took home three medals and ran his current mile PR. He was feeling like a "rock star", and relatively speaking, he deserved to. On the third and final day, as the Brewster team finished up their last event and started packing up to leave, I heard Kevin's coach yell out, "Hazelwood…you've got the tent and the first-aid kit!!" After taking a moment to figure out that he didn't mean me, I watched Kevin pack up the tent and take it, the med kit and his own over-stuffed gym bag, which all combined probably almost equaled his own body weight, and slowly start making his way up the huge hill toward the bus. I smiled and said to myself, "There ya go…there's character being built right before my eyes." It wasn't a huge thing. It wasn't a 'punishment' for him being arrogant about his success, because he wasn't doing that at all. I don't think it was even necessarily a conscious gesture by his coach. It was just his role that day, and him fulfilling it. He had himself a great weekend athletically, and at the end of it, he was still a frosh and it was his turn on the tent. Good lesson. Well done, Coach Scelia.

This is a real easy self-evaluation. Are you a better person now, at the end of your freshman year, then you were at the beginning of it. If you can say yes to that simple question, and I'll bet most of you can, then there's another measure of success for you.


Have you found someone that is going to "matter" in your life?

In November of 1979, I walked into a hot, dusty gymnasium at Mamaroneck high school. I was a slightly tubby, socially inept and academically underachieving 15yr. freshman who had no idea at all that I'd just taken my first step on a four year journey during which I would find my own personal version of the success I've been talking about throughout this article. I'd like to be able to say that this changed everything for me, but that wouldn't be accurate. Four years later I was still slightly tubby, was just barely starting to figure out the social aspects of teenage life and never became anything more than an average student. But in a small, cluttered corner office of that gym, I found the man who would ultimately become the single most influential person of my entire high school experience. Coach George Holub was nothing less than a second father to me during those years. He taught me so much more than just the ins and outs of our sport. He was the first one in my face when I screwed up in school, but he was also the first one to be there and have my back when the situation called for that. He actually got me out of a lot of hated gym classes as well, but at the same time making sure I used that time to practice technique or do weight work, thus technically still "physically educating" me, lol. Coach Holub has been retired for years now, but through the power of social networking, I still have a chance to talk with him from time to time…..and despite the fact that I am now a 47yr. old man with teenagers of my own, I will never be able to comfortably call him anything but "Coach".

My son has been so incredibly fortunate to have found something similar to that already with Brewster HS head coach Joe Scelia. Coach Scelia fills so many different roles for him and his teammates; from coach, to 'big brother', to mentor, friend and confidante…and I am so happy about, as well as completely envious of, the relationship they share. I'm sure that in a few years when Kevin comes home from college for holidays and breaks, Joe will already have seen him way before I get to. heh…

So who did you find during your freshman year that matters to you? It doesn't have to be a coach. Maybe for you it was an older teammate who took you under their wing, or an official that you struck a chord with at a meet, or even a teacher that you maybe never even had a class with, but who is a track fan or a runner themself, who you now share a bond with because of this sport. Maybe it's even more than one person, or maybe you haven't come across anyone like that yet at all. That's ok…you have time. And when you do, you'll know it and your life will certainly be enriched because of it.


I suppose I've well exceeded my allotted hour of interrogation with my frosh, and he'd most certainly be off on a run by now, or somewhere antagonizing his brother or something fun like that. So let me shift gears and start saying my own goodbyes to freshman year from the perspective of a parent, which I have to tell you is a bittersweet prospect. This year was absolutely amazing for me, and certainly the most rewarding time I've experienced thus far as a parent. If I had to sum it up with just one thought, as corny as this old line sounds, my son really did start this year off still very much a boy and ended it well on his way to being the man he will eventually become. And what's not good about that?

But for all the good, there is also some sense of sadness to it and certainly some concerns about what comes next. I absolutely love how during the course of the year, through necessity and with the guidance of his coaches, he became more mature and responsible and far more self-sufficient. But at the same time, it makes me a little sad that he really doesn't need me so much anymore.  And it's great to see him surrounded by such a good group of friends and to watch how they all interact with each other, but that also means that he'll have less and less time for dad.

Another thing that comes to mind is the obvious changes in goals and expectations that will naturally come with the progression to sophomore year. He just ended a year full of "That's really good for a freshman", and I wonder about how he's going to handle losing the "….for a freshman" safety net and having to be just plain old "good", or not.

And I know I'm being silly, and maybe even a little selfish. This is just life in general, and not exclusive to the sport of track and field. Our little freshmen are growing up and spreading their wings, and we have to let them do that…and they will do just fine.

But if life had a rewind button, I can't honestly say that I wouldn't be tempted to roll through freshman year just one more time. Maybe twice, even.


I want to close out this article by celebrating some of the people who played a part in this freshmen season, and where I mention specific people by name I invite you to insert your own set of people as they apply to your own freshmen year, and to certainly include them all in the comment section.

To my fellow freshman parents….CONGRATULATIONS! WE MADE IT! We faced up to the challenge of waking up a 15yr. old at 5:00am on a Saturday, preparing oddball ritual meals for them, buying more pairs of shoes than Imelda Marcos, dropping them off at ungodly hours for bus rides, picking them up (often smelling like a herd of goats, I might add) from late night returns and somehow managing to squeeze a little studying and homework out of them along the way. Well done. I salute you all.

To all the officials, support people, concession workers and field crews. Thank you so much for giving of your time for our children. You more often than not are nameless and faceless to them, but you've helped guide and teach them through this early part of their track and field journey as much as anyone.

To Kyle Brazeil of Milesplit (you know, the Twitter guy), for documenting this incredible year for us. His pictures, words and statistics have created "virtual scrapbooks" for each and every one of our children. And also for giving me a stage on which to share my thoughts on the sport I love. He is one of the best people in all of New York track and field.

To Coach Joe Scelia and the entire Brewster coaching staff, for taking a skinny little "question asking machine" who showed up with little in the way of demonstrable natural ability, and teaching him how to find what he had inside of him, build upon it and be the best that he could possibly be. I can never thank you enough for what you all have done for my son.

To the whole Brewster High School track team, thank you all for making me smile a thousand times this year, and for taking Kevin in and making him a part of your family. To those who are leaving us, best of luck to you wherever life may lead you. And to those who are returning, have a wonderful summer, crack open those summer training packets (which you just got in your email!) and I'll see you all in a few months.

To the young men pictured in the cover photo, (from left to right) Conor Lundy, Kevin Hazelwood, Mike Delfay, and Aidan Tooker, as well as Gavin Gaynor, Jake Johnson, Thorr Trowbridge, Jeffery Reyes, Ben Petrella, Nick Neamtu and a host of others. I mention you guys for two reasons. One…because as freshmen, you don't have an opportunity to get mentioned here a lot, although I strongly suspect you will all change that soon enough. And two…because it's going to be so much fun watching you all "go at it" over the next three years, and I hope that you get a chance to develop good friendships amongst yourselves along the way, as well. (again…please feel free to add your own 'freshmen heroes' in the comment box)

To my son, Kevin…thank you so much for taking me along on this amazing ride with you. We've laughed, fought, hugged and butted heads all year…but at the end of the day, I just love to sit back and watch you run, and I hope that someday you will get to experience a "freshmen year" from the perspective that I did this year. I am so, so proud of you.

And finally, to all of our young "freshmen no more", who showed up in that hot, dusty gym, not knowing what to expect, but ready to take on whatever it was. Who put in the miles, pushed the weights, did the core work and learned their events and the sport in general. Who grew as people, both physically and emotionally, and turned into responsible, self-sufficient young adults, striving to reach their goals and succeeding in every way imaginable. THANK YOU…THANK YOU…THANK YOU!!!

I am a lifelong, die-hard fan of the sport of track and field, and you all are its future.

Have a wonderful summer, and bring it back hard next year.

I can't wait to see what you do!