Thoughts From Three: Short Notes On A Long Winter

After the success of Jim Vermeulen's XC Journal in the many falls of Cross Country, we've asked again for him to provide some news and notes once a month. Think of these as the thoughts that cross the mind of your average coach. Up from Section 3, we present you with "Thoughts From Three."

Short Notes From a Long Winter

Ask enough Indoor Track & Field alumni about their remembered seasons, and a surprising number will first recall not a championship medal, nor a school record or even league wins, but instead something of those ordinary afternoons and hours, the time with teammates in a common pursuit. For many this winter, that kind of ordinary was the first-and most important--sport casualty of COVID.

Necessity is the mother of not only invention, but of conviction. With the help of committed coaches, with parent support, and with the cooperation of administrators, during this COVID winter some fortunate Indoor Track & Field athletes ran outdoor practices, raced virtual meets in parking lots or held actual contests in mall garages. With ingenuity and pluck, their seasons were rescued in one form or another. Unfortunately, too many Indoor Track & Field athletes were not so lucky.

This winter, specially staged Indoor Track & Field meets for elite athletes or for those few willing to travel long distances to compete, could almost create the patina of normalcy. The media, of course, does not focus on the athletic exploits of the average athlete. Coverage of the elites is preferred. Cautiously arranged national competitions these cold months were reasonably well reported and so sufficient to the media's purpose. What wasn't covered were the many other athletes who never had anywhere to go in the after-school hours, not even to practices.

Local sports traditions sustain programs that are rich in tradition. For current athletes, however, traditions are no substitute or proxy. For such athletes, a local tradition only matters if you can participate in it.

In the past decade, the sport of Indoor Track & Field has grown, a worthy feat despite the fact that the majority in any community still have little idea of what the sport actually is and--more to the point--why students choose to participate. Indoor lacks an iconic mythology to sustain it, like football or basketball. It lacks an apparent utility for organizing youthful energies, like soccer. It's a difficult spectator sport, to say the least. Indoor borrows its constituency from Outdoor Track & Field, the #2 participant sport in the country for boys and #1 for girls, so one would expect strength there. But because of Indoor Track's patchwork of practice and competition venues, some inside, some out, an easily conjured image of a 'home' for the sport-such as the boisterous basketball court or the humid, echoing pool-does not exist in most schools. A danger the lack of a sense of 'place' presents for the sport is that, when push comes to shove, indoor is too easily viewed as homeless and dispensable.

Most coaches willing regale others with their "difficult parent" stories. What happens less often is mention of the more frequent-and much more important-"supportive parent" stories.

The question is simple but too often answered incorrectly: Who is the constituency that can most effectively ensure good things happen for the majority of 'average' scholastic athletes? (Hint: it's not athletes, coaches or administrators)

In our neck of the woods, the Indoor Track & Field athletes are now into their strange and delayed season, one rescued at the last moment. It will be short. There is no guarantee of meets, and certainly championships are unlikely. Over their shoulders on clear track practice days, they will hear the shouts and grunts of similarly displaced but grateful football players. Thanks to parents, coaches, athletes and administrators, an indoor track season of some form will rise with the temperatures of an approaching spring. Team numbers-the athletes' statements--look good too. All the hopeful runners, throwers and sprinters who have made the choice for this odd season will get to enjoy what matters most.

A growing consensus makes probable a strong constituency.