In some ways I’m perfect, but in other ways, I couldn’t be worse.
The topic is running. I come from a running family. Three members of the clan have completed marathons, and another has run the distance numerous times but because of his general disdain for people, never entered one.
My daughter runs cross country, likewise for a niece.
I ran cross country for Binghamton High in the mid-1980s. This past weekend, I saw two of my former coaches while covering football Saturday — Les Ehrets and Dave Cody (great guys). Still refer to the former as Mr. Ehrets and to the latter as Dave, because if memory serves, that’s what he wanted to be called. Mr. Ehrets watched his grandson Ryan play on both sides of the ball for Chenango Forks. Dave, who still coaches cross country and track at BHS, worked the concession stand at Binghamton Alumni Stadium.
It’s weird, whenever I arrive at Binghamton Alumni, known as North Field back in the day, my first thoughts don’t concern football. I turn my attention to the hill next to the highway, one I ran countless times during practice. We did a lot of our training there.
One such workout involved running around the football field. We’d go hard for 120 yards the long way, then jog from sideline-to-sideline. We’d get to watch the football team practice during this exercise.
Remember doing that drill, think it was 1983, and quarterback Mark Olmstead was running a bootleg to the right. The right half of the field was wide open, but Olmstead decided to pass, one that bounced in front of his intended receiver. I said to a teammate, “He’s going to get chewed out for that.” Before I could finish my sentence, Jud Blanchard, my guidance counselor and BHS’ football coach at the time, sprinted toward Olmsted. He grabbed his facemask and proceeded to give him as harsh a tongue-lashing as I’ve witnessed. “Told you,” I said to the teammate.
Athletes such as Olmstead, King Rice, Rick Coleman, Wendell Mack, Tony Marshall, Dale Spencer, Peter Regulski and Chris Tolerson walked the hallways at BHS back then. Played against many of them in Pee Wee football and Little League baseball. Knew at that time I’d have to find something else to do in high school.
Cross country became the choice.
Hated running from the outset. Never once felt runner’s high, never enjoyed the workouts, never liked the constant soreness and the nagging injuries (shin splints, anyone?). To succeed was to push yourself to near exhaustion.
If success was attained, happiness didn’t follow. Nah, it was more like a small degree of satisfaction. The finish line wasn’t a place to celebrate, but an area where hands went to knees, which was followed by the several-minute wait for the heart rate to return to a somewhat normal level and for the body fatigue to subside.
It’s been said, quite accurately, that misery enjoys company. That’s why cross-country teams are so close and that’s what kept me running over my final three years of high school. Didn’t like the sport, but I liked the people.
We understood each other. We’d look at each other, most of us already oxygen deprived with two more half-mile repeats remaining during a speed workout, and our eyes did the talking. They’d say, “Can you believe we volunteered for this (stuff)?”
We also had a lot of fun. Some stuff the coaches didn’t need to know about — the impromptu football games on LSD (long, slow distance) days or the rides to practice with six of seven of us piling into something that resembled a car and praying we’d make it from BHS to Roosevelt.
Because so many of our shared experiences centered on pain, the ones that didn’t seemed like heaven.
That’s why I completely understood why it was so difficult to corral Union-Endicott’s Emily Mackay after she won the Class B race in the Section 4 State Qualifier at Chenango Valley State Park. Tried to get her attention shortly after she finished, but she kept looking for spots to cheer on teammates. Not just the ones who figured into the scoring but all of them.
And it wasn’t just Mackay. That dynamic is unique to cross country.
The state qualifier brought back some fond memories (and others that weren’t so fond).
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @PSBRob.