Spring of 1971 meant my first real season of track at South Junior High. We had no track, just a dirt path around a football field. My coach was an idiot. I ran the 880. It was the long event we could compete at but it didn't stop the coach from threatening me if I didn't take up another event. He didn't like the idea of wasting space for an athlete who could only compete in one event.
Our training program was at best a joke. I'm amazed that I ran as well as I did considering the lack of work we did. Our first meet was at Hayden High School on the worst track I've ever competed on. It was a like a slab of highway asphalt with giant cracks and ruts. The coach told me to go out like a mad man and hit the 400 in 60 seconds. What I didn't know is that he was trying to set the race up teammate Clay Kappelman to win.
I did as I was told and roared through the 400 and hung on for dear life and won in 2:18. I could tell Clay was devastated. I was happy and surprised. Much to my regret it was a lousy race tactic that I struggled the rest of my life to overcome.
Clay finally beat me by the fourth meet of the season. It was the only invitational we ran all year. It was the first time I competed against a runner I grew to know well from Ottawa. Jerry Peffly is the best runner to ever come out of Ottawa. Jerry was a great guy and a great runner. He took several state titles his junior and senior years of high school. He crushed us in the 880 that day. I think Clay was second or third and I finished fifth.
I finally got a chance to run a mile in the fifth meet of the season. I ran 5:12.1 and won. At the time it was the Junior High record for Lawrence. It lasted all of one year.
At the end of spring I ran an AAU regional meet and dropped my PR down to 4:56. I remember two things from that race. I got beat by a 440 runner from our school who decided to try his hand at the mile. He ran 4:52. Randy Wales never ran another race which is unfortunate because he was a great natural talent. The other thing is I remember the kid who won the race. His name was Steve Shaad and he was from Bonner Springs. Steve, Jerry Peffly, and another stud named Terry Glenn would form a distance running power trio would be the Class 3A version of "Cream."
I trained through the summer running the occasional track meet. I remember two summer races in particular. A trip out to the tiny western Kansas town of LaCrosse for a 10 mile race. It was the first time I met Jim Hershberger. Google his name, he's quite a legend. I ran 65 minutes, nothing special, except for Hershberger's comment about me running on my toes. The other race was a one hour run at Haskell. Larry Grecian from Topeka West won it going about a lap past 10 miles. I was third, a couple of laps short of ten, and went home with my first trophy.
My sophomore year of cross country is mostly snatches of memory. I didn't like running on grass and hills. I was a rhythm runner more suited to track racing. I was usually the third man on our team and finished in the upper half to third of most meets. I won two medals that fall, a seventh at Seaman and a tenth at the Lawrence Invitational. Nothing really stands out except for the teams at Shawnee Mission South and Shawnee Mission West. Both teams were really, really good. West had Joe Wommack and a junior who is now a great columnist for the Kansas City Star, Yael Abouhalkah. South had two seniors leading the way, Mitch Powlas and Charlie Gray. Charlie went on to become a running legend in Kansas City. Remarkably neither team won state that year. As for my Lawrence High Lions, we weren't even close to qualifying for state. I couldn't wait for the spring and track.