A suggestion came in my email the other day from a runner who used to whip my backside with ease. He wants me to detail my high school experience in track and cross country because I was fortunate to compete against some outstanding athletes. As I've blogged before I first went out for track in the 8th grade but it didn't amount to much.
My running career took shape in the fall of 1970 at Abilene High School. I had probably averaged 20 miles a week training with Greg Morgenson. I had also been inspired by Joe Newton's book "The Long Green Mile." Our cross country coach Robert Chatham had loaned it to me before the season started.
The summer work paid off because I made varsity as the sixth man. Our first meet was at Wamego where rainy conditions forced us off the golf course and onto a nearby cow pasture. The footing was treacherous but I managed to finish 38th out of 100 or so runners. I finished as the first freshman in the field.
I remember seeing Kent McDonald (a future national class steeplechaser) standing around injured with his Lawrence High teammates. I also remember seeing Randy Smith crush the field in the big class race. There was a lot hushed talk among my older peers on the team about Smith. I had no idea who he was. Smith ended up winning the AAU national championship five years later. Kent was second in that race.
It was my only cross country race my freshman year. Snow claimed the second meet of the season and that was that. I moved back to Lawrence and entered South Junior High where the gym teacher promptly asked me if I wanted to play football. I almost made the mistake of laughing in his face. I could have stayed in Abilene with my grandmother and finished out the season but I had grown to hate life in a small town where everyone knew your business. I wanted the anonymity of a city and Lawrence offered that.
I went to one Lawrence High practice. It was a real pain getting from South over to the high school. I felt unwelcomed and unwanted. At the time LHS didn't allow freshman to compete so I didn't return. Instead I concentrated on getting ready for track.
I did go to the state cross country meet that fall. I watched Lawrence get dead last in the 5A race. My former team, the Abilene Cowboys finished on the podium taking third in the 3A race. I didn't have any regrets. I was just happy that they had taken a trophy.
That same moron of a gym teacher told me if I was going to run on his track team, I had better learn to run on my toes. I spent the winter learning how to do just that. I did a lot of training on the old dirt track of Allen Field House. I got to watch some great KU athletes up close and became close to one assistant coach in particular, Harvey Greer. He called me Cosmos because he thought I was a space cadet. I became something of a mascot for the high jumpers and hurdlers. The distance runners were never around. It was a great way to spend the my first winter back in Lawrence.