Firesign Theatre said it. This season of cross country in Southwest Florida proved it. Months ago I wrote about the promise I saw on the distance running scene in our area. I hate to disparage high school kids, but man, it was disappointing.
Let's start with the positives. Dunbar High School went to state. It's a school where football rules and where running cross country for young African-Americans can't be considered too cool. But Coach Joshua Evans lit a spark and this unheralded team ran their way to State.
Then there's Estero. Don't kid yourself, the program is still trying to recover from the loss of the irreplaceable Jeff Sommer. Kudos for Ben Pignatone, the boys coach, to being himself. He swallowed some bitter pills, pulled his boys together and they ran with fierce pride over the last month of the season. It's his program now. I can't say enough about how much I respect what he's done.
The runner that never gave in was North Fort Myers Kayla Easterly. She played second banana to Fort Myer's star Krissy Gear for the last two year. In their last cross country battle of their prep careers in Florida, Easterly got the upper hand. She is the most improved runner in our area by a country mile in the last two years.
Finally there's the unending enthusiasm of Riverdale's Dan Whaley and Cypress Lake's Chris Bradway who exude joy when it comes to running. If they can build the numbers in at their schools, both can build programs that could scare traditional powers Estero and Fort Myers.
The Fort Myers boys caught a bad break when niggling injuries swept through their top three at various times during the season. A nasty illness that staggered senior Sam Hordinski, was the final blow. Yet in the end, finishing 5th at the State Champions is actually quite an achievement.
Then there's the mystifying crew of girls that run for Rob Strong. Getting 3rd is nothing to feel ashamed of. Fiona Kurland could be next year's Kayla Easterly. But as a fan of this team and these young women, something was missing. Each of the top ten girls on this squad had their moments during the course of the season. But the stars seemed misaligned because they could never hit their peaks together on the same day. Had they done, a spot on the podium was theirs.
I'm crossing my fingers that the outdoor track season could be a special one for these special distance runners from across Lee County. If the weather cooperates, we could see some staggeringly good times. Here's to a great winter of training and a sensational spring.