Monday, July 13, 2020

Burt

I don't know why I started thinking last night about Burt Kennedy.  I suspect it's because one of the Czarina's overweight work colleagues died from a heart attack last week.  Between COVID and the news of the COVID death of a former Fort Myers co-worker, Dave Lombardi also last week, Burt came to mind.

When I wrote several years ago about my three years working at KTSP (now KSAZ) in Phoenix I failed to even mention Burt Kennedy.  It's a shame because Burt was a quiet force of nature in the newsroom.  Technically, he was the newsroom operations manager but in many ways he was a keeper of the flame of a station that had dominated the Phoenix television market when it was known as KOOL TV.

I didn't know what to make of Burt when I first arrived at the station.  He was quiet and down right studious and seemed out of place in a raucous newsroom.  But I soon realized that these still waters ran very deep.

Burt Kennedy was the first person I had worked with who understood how a personal computer worked.  Now that seems ridiculous in 2020 but in 1987 having a PC on your desk was a new thing.  I was used to banging out scripts on an IBM selectric typewriter, not a computer with a floppy disc.

Burt patiently taught me how to use the computer.  He showed me the ropes of the newsroom.  And perhaps the most important lesson he taught me was how to answer the newsroom phone.  I had worked for nearly a decade in television news but Burt always answered the phone politely and directly.  "Newscenter 10, this is Burt Kennedy, how can I help you?"  It struck me as professional and at Burt's insistent direction I started to copy his style.  I still do it to this day, 33 years later, although I say, "Run Florida On McGregor, this is John, how can I help you."

Burt knew the Valley of the Sun inside and out.  He had countless interesting stories about growing up in the Phoenix area and the amazing people that crossed his path.  Burt was especially proud of his namesake uncle, the Hollywood director Burt Kennedy.  Google him.  That Burt Kennedy was part a pretty big name in the film business and specialized in westerns.

The most important thing Burt imparted was the grand history of the station where I worked.  He yearned for the days when the station, when it was owned by Gene Autry, yes that Gene Autry, when no expense was spared to produce a top notch newscast and a lot of documentaries, many of which Burt helped to produce.  He was the part of a station legacy that included legendary anchorman Bill Close, the Walter Cronkite of the market, who had been the face of the station for a quarter of a century.

The other thing about Burt, was his size.  He was a big, big man.  He tipped the scales at well over 300 pounds and stood more than six feet tall.  Burt died in the 1990's, for the life of me I can't remember the year and can't find an obituary.  He was in his mid to late 40's.  He got a staph infection and I suspect his weight didn't help.

Burt Kennedy was a gentle soul in a rough and tumble business.  Most importantly he was a great journalist. He believed in doing great journalism.  He encouraged great journalism.  The world of television news could use a few Burt Kennedy's right now.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Nino

I remember the first time I saw a jaw dropping athlete.  It was at the Kansas State High School Basketball 4A Tournament in the winter of 1972 at Allen Field House.  I went to an opening round game featuring McPherson against Salina Central.  I went to see a player named Nino Samuels.

What I saw that night left me amazed.  Nino Samuels was a man playing among boys.  He overpowered the McPherson squad with slashing drives and rebound after rebound.  But McPherson had a better team and squeezed out a win on its way to a state title.

I was excited because the Salina Central All-American who averaged 31.1 points and a staggering 19.3 rebounds a game his senior year, was going to the University of Kansas.  He was a sure fire NBA prospect.  Back in the fall of 1972 freshman were not allowed to play varsity basketball.  That left Samuels to sharpen his skills on the freshman squad.

Suddenly, the NCAA decided to change its rules regarding freshman eligibility half way through Samuels freshman year.  The 72-73 Jayhawk squad was just this side of bad.  I had hoped that Nino's arrival to the varsity would lift K.U.'s hoop fortunes.  There was one problem.  Nino couldn't shoot.  I see it as a failure of the Kansas coaching staff.  They should have drilled him and drilled him on shooting the 15 footer. 

You could see that by the start of his sophomore year, this heralded player was disheartened.  His minutes were few on a Kansas team that would eventually would go to the Final 4. Averaging 4.4 points per game, Nino quit the team around Christmas and headed back to Salina and Marymount University.

I remember hearing stories from an English professor at K.U. who described Nino as a good kid but a lackluster student.  He told me about an essay Nino had written about the NBA which Samuels had summarized as, jock around for three quarters then hustle.  That story always stuck with me.

Samuels thrived at Marymount, a NAIA power.  By his senior year Nino had led his hometown team to a third place finish in the national tournament.  He never played a minute in the NBA.

Nino Samuels passed away Wednesday.  He was only 67.  Nino Samuels is still one of the three best high school basketball players I ever saw in person.  Darnell Valentine of Wichita Heights and Cole Anthony who now plays at North Carolina are the other two.  He may very well be the best all around high school athlete I ever saw.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lots of Pain, No Gain

A lot of track coaches will tell you, no pain, no gain.  It's a point I won't argue.  You have to work if you want to be a good track and field athlete.  But this is the blog that I didn't want to write, prayed I wouldn't have to write and took more than a month to get around to.

Southwest Florida's high school track and field season came to a COVID-19 halt just as the season was beginning to get going.  By March the pandemic had brought the season to a screeching halt just as the area's top flight athletes were looking forward to big meets at FSU and Florida.  What's sad is this year promised as much history in the girl's middle distances as we saw last spring.

The Oliveira twins of ECS versus versus Jessica Edwards of Canterbury would have made for some epic battles over 400 and 800 meters.  Edwards was also aiming at joining the growing number of Lee County girls to have run 1600 meters under 5 minutes.  These wonderful athletes were robbed of making history.  The twins will go down as two of the best athletes in any sport to have represented their school.

The heartache extends to the boys distances where Estero's Kolton Pickard, Ida Baker's Franklin Caceres and Fort Myers' Liam Holston were rounding into shape for some epic races.  Caceres will take his talents to FGCU.  Fortunately Pickard and Holston will have another year to deepen their rivalry.

There are at least another half dozen athletes looking to make a name this spring.  Steph Ormsby comes to mind.  The Fort Myers senior could have done some special things on the track this spring.  Dunbar had an exceptional sprint team again and a brand new facility that was looking forward to hosting some major meets.  That will have to wait until next spring.

The good news is the finishing touches are being put on a new synthetic track at Cypress Lake High School which will mean good to first rate surfaces at five of the 14 Lee County public high schools.  Racing on asphalt is criminal.

Finally, I wish all of you could have seen a couple of the Instagram posts by the aforementioned Caceres and Edwards.  These two athletes were brave enough to share their time trials over the web as they tried to push themselves to PR's.  It was both entertaining and inspiring.  These two young athletes represent what is best about our sport.   

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Streak

All running streaks come to an end.  Illness, injury, weather, travel, something always gets in the way  of getting out for a run.  I would have to go back through my running logs but I think the most days in a row I have ever strung together is around 120 days.  Right now I'm on a 46 day coronavirus induced streak.

So I was a little stunned Thursday morning to get a message from my old training partner, streak runner extraordinaire, Craig Davidson, that his epic 40 plus year streak had come to an end.  A nasty intestinal illness landed Craig in the hospital for four days and thus the streak that started on November 1, 1977 had come to an end.

I've written about Craig before.  He is probably the best known runner in the Phoenix area.  He's a fixture at the best running store in the Valley, a legendary store in its own right, Runner's Den. 

I moved to Phoenix for a job at the CBS station in 1987 and one of the first things I did at the suggestion of a co-worker was call Runner's Den in search of a long run group.  As fate would have it Craig answered the phone and immediately invited me to the Saturday morning, 7 a.m. long run that started in Scottsdale and looped around Mummy Mountain situated in Paradise Valley. 

First about that long run.  It is a 16 mile loop that at the time featured three water stops and one epic climb.  The first stop was at a tennis club, the second a spigot situated outside a wall of a home in the posh community.  The final stop was on a golf course and it featured an ice chest which at about 12 miles or more into the run was especially welcome on hot summer days.

I ran every one of those long runs except for two around that loop with Craig over the three years I lived in Phoenix.  He was an exceptional ultra marathoner at the time, one of the best in the nation.  He regularly logged 150 miles plus back in those days.  His day usually started with a pre-dawn 10 mile run and a post work 10 mile run.

One time Craig talked me into doing the long run an hour earlier than usual so we could go to an 8K race at another location in Scottsdale.  We did our a gentle 7:20 pace mile around the loop and headed to the race.  Craig, as usual, beat me by about a minute while I shocked myself by running a PR at the time of about 28 flat.

I only beat Craig once in my life.  It was at the St. George Marathon in 1990.  Craig had first taken me to St. George the year before and it was an incredible experience.  The following year I flew in from Kansas City and managed to catch him at around 16 miles and beat him by about four minutes. 

I've since run St. George two more times to help Craig celebrate running milestones and in both instances, Craig took me down. Those milestones by the way were his 100th and 150th marathons.  The last time in 2010 was the last marathon for me.  But Craig has kept running them.

I always thought an injury would stop the streak.  I saw him shuffle through a run at what could best be described a fast walk to keep the streak alive.  That was back in the mid-90's when I was on a work trip to Phoenix and as I recall he later found out that he had some sort of fracture going on in his back that managed to self heal. 

The best thing about Craig is just what an incredible person he is.  On those Mummy Mountain long runs he would always stay with a newcomer, no matter how fast, or how slow, he or she might be to make sure they knew the course.  He had a heart of gold and was a great running conversationalist. 

Craig informed me the streak is back on.  And that is a good thing indeed.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Five Things: Week 5

Sorry for being late with this take on the Southwest Florida high school distance running scene but as the world has spun out of control, I've been more than a little distracted.  Running is a minor piece of the equation as our nation grapples with this calamity.  Yet I feel certain while a price will be paid for all of this that none of us has come to terms with, we will move forward and survive.
1.  It kills me that we have a handful of incredible athletes who probably won't get a chance to make history this spring.  I was looking forward to Canterbury's Jessica Edwards breaking 5:00 in the 1,600 and closing in on 2:05 in the 800.  I wondered how the Oliveira twins, Moriah and Sierra, would end their remarkable careers at ECS.  I can only imagine how crushing this must be for these athletes.

2.  On the boy's side I was looking forward to some battle royals between Ida Baker's Franklin Caceres, Estero's Kolton Pickard and Fort Myer's Liam Holton.  Liam is on the comeback trail and his progress has been amazing.  Caceres just posted an incredible tempo run to his social media.  I feel deprived of what could of, would of, should of been a hell of a showdown at the county meet.

3.  Despite the probable loss of a season, the athletes must continue to train.  Edwards, Pickard and Holston have more seasons to come at the high school level.  I believe in my heart things will be returning to normal by the time cross country season arrives.  I can barely wait.

4.  I take heart that I can see the work progressing at Cypress Lake High School on the new synthetic track.  Despite the closing of the schools, the workers are out there, under the sun, making progress on what should be a great new facility.  Let's hope we get to put this new surface to the test soon.

5.  I will diverge from the high school scene to mention how heartbreaking it is to see Krissy Gear denied an almost guaranteed All-American award during her first season at Arkansas.  Her Distance Medley Relay team probably would have won the whole thing at NCAA Indoor Nationals and there is no telling what Miss Gear could have done in the open mile.  The lone bright spot is that Gear and Florida's Hugh Brittenham will get an extra outdoor season of eligibility should they choose to use it.  That's the only good news in the world of sports that I've learned all week.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Five Things: Week 4

We're one third of the way through the high school track and field season in Florida.  Distance runners have enjoyed cool, albeit windy conditions for their races.  We don't have a complete set of results from over the weekend.  For reasons unknown, the results from the Edison Relays at Fort Myers High School have not posted.  This historic meet featured only four teams and its future is in peril until the school gets a good surface to run on.  There are too many other meets with better surfaces on the schedule now.

1.  It's no surprise that Canterbury junior Jessica Edwards would post the first top double of the season.  Edwards wanted to chase a sub-five 1600 at the CSN Invitational in Naples and gave it a good go clocking a 5:08.43 in a solo effort.  Even more impressive was her 800 opener in 2:14.05.  It was an easy eight second victory over ECS rival Sierra Oliveira.

2.  We've got to give a little love for Sierra's sister, Moriah.  She scored an impressive triple victory in the 100, 200 and 400 at the CSN meet.  Moriah's 400 was an impressive 54.53, a great time for this early in the season.

3.  Estero's Kolton Pickard ran the fastest 1600 of the season in Southwest Florida at CSN.  His 4:29.32 gave him a clear victory over Lehigh sophomore Evan Meyer who ran 4:35.2.  It's early in the season but Pickard is going to have to run sub 4:20 to make noise at the state level.

4.  We had an Ethan Tank sighting at CSN.  The SFCA junior had so-so races early in the season but at CSN he captured the 3200 title in 9:54.64.  He was chased to the finish by Estero senior Brandon Palamino who also dipped under 10 joining Pickard and Ida Baker's Franklin Caceres as the only athletes to do so this season.

5.  Fort Myers junior Liam Holston is on the comeback trail.  Illness ruined the end of his cross country season and foot woes hampered the start of his training for track.  Holston doubled at Edison in roughly 2:05 and 4:42 for the 800 and 1600.  Another month and training and he should be in the mix with Caceres and Pickard as one of the top distance runners in the area.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Five Things: Week 3

This was a weird week.  There were three area meets, a quad at Dunbar early in the week, a girl's meet in Punta Gorda on Thursday with the week finishing with a major relay only meet at Naples.  So some of this is speculation because I don't know who ran which legs at Naples.

1.  Fort Myers sophomore Amy Meng  announced her arrival on the Southwest Florida running scene. Meng had popped off some impressive road race wins over the winter but Thursday she showed some major chops in the 3200.  Meng ran an impressive 11:35.57 to take second at the Lady Tarpon Invitational.  I suspect she's just scratching the surface.  She could run something big when the FSU Relays rolls around.

2.  I assume that Franklin Caceres turned in a big performance in Naples as Ida Baker took down Estero in the 4 x 1600.  Given Estero's distance depth it's a great showing for Ida Baker.  This is a program on the rise.

3.  Fort Myers distance ace Stephy Ormsby lost the 1600 finishing second by ten seconds in a respectable 5:30.89.   I would think at this time of the year Stephy should be easily able to run 5:15 but it's all a question of where she is in her training cycle and the current state of her health.  Please don't take my observations as a criticism, she is after all a high school athlete.

4.  It looks like Canterbury's Jessica Edwards enjoyed an unusual weekend double.  I'm guessing she had a major hand in her team's Distance Medley victory in Naples on Saturday.  Then she turned around Sunday morning and teamed up with older sister Emily to run a 6.5 mile leg in the Lazy Flamingo Half Marathon Relay.  Needless to say the Edwards sisters were the fastest relay team!

5.  I've got to turn away from the high school scene to talk about a couple of locals competing at the college level.  Estero grad Hugh Brittenham now at Florida helped his team to a scoring seventh place finish in the Distance Medley Relay at the SEC Indoor Championships.  He also qualified for the men's final of the mile, no mean feat for a freshman in the distance powerful conference.  Then there's the rejuvenation of Fort Myers grad Krissy Gear.  Her decision to transfer from Furman to Arkansas is paying off.  She anchor the Hogs to victory in the DMR at the SEC, qualified for the finals of the mile where she placed second and ran the 3000 to round out her Saturday.  Gear will run her first indoor nationals for the Razorbacks in the DMR.  I haven't seen the complete list of mile eligible athletes but she's also very close to being in that event as well.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Five Big Things: Week 2

Things are beginning to percolate around the Southwest Florida running scene.  A nice cool front offered distance runners to race under tolerable conditions but a strong north wind ruined any chance of fast times Friday night at Bishop Verot but it did hold temperatures down for Saturday's meet at Golden Gate.

1.  Friday night's girl's 3200 at Verot promised to be the first big race of the season.  Canterbury junior Jessica Edwards was stepping up in distance and would face Fort Myers senior distance ace Stephy Ormsby.  After a lackluster 800 leg in the 4x800 Ormsby scratched the 3200 leaving Edwards alone to face the winds and Estero's Mia Perez.

Edwards slowly but surely pulled away from Perez and ran 11:31.7 winning by 20 seconds.  Perez showed heart breaking 12 minutes in the terrible conditions.

2.  Sarah Schultz scored a double win at Verot, one coming in the rarely run 1200, the other in the 1600.  Her times were not world shattering, 4:10 and 5:38, but it shows that the Fort Myers senior is rebounding after an unsatisfying end to her cross country season.
3.  Franklin Caceres finally emerged at the Jim Smith Invitational at Golden Gate.  The Ida Baker senior ran the 3200 in 10:02.74, the second fastest time in Lee County behind Estero's Kolton Pickard.  Pickard opted for the 4x800 at Verot and an easy win in the 1600 in 4:39.7.  Estero's boys took every distance race save for the 800 at Verot.

4.  Lehigh Acres may have a super sophomore in the making.  Evan Meyer won the 1600 in 4:38.63 at the Smith Invitational.  The mark is the fastest in Lee County though it's very early in the season.

5.  Fort Myers junior Liam Holston made his first track appearance of the season racing the JV 800 at Verot.  Foot issues has hampered the start of his track season following an exceptional fall in cross country.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Five Big Things: Week 1

Track and field have gotten underway to Southwest Florida.  I am going to attempt to stay on top of the Lee County distance scene while noting former area athletes who are competing elsewhere as we head into the season with Five Big Things that I take away from the results of the week.

Thing 1:  Canterbury's Jessica Edwards appears ready and loaded for bear.  She started the week with a respectable 11:32 3,200, an event she loathes and fashioned a fine 4:51 and 2:17 1,500 and 800 double at Ida Baker.  Folks, she's made the opening statement that she's the class of Lee County distance running.

Thing 2:  The Missing in Actions this week were ECS and Oliveira twins.  They were scheduled to compete at Neumann but did not.  The other MIA was Ida Baker's Franklin Caceres who didn't run at his home opener.  Let's hope he's healthy.

Thing 3:  Fort Myers senior Stephy Ormsby ran a puzzling 800, 3000 double at Ida Baker.  It appears she sandbagged her 800 head to head with Edwards running 2:43, a jog for her and opted for a hard effort just minutes later in the 3,000 running a 10:46 which equates to a sub 11:30 3,200.  She's still on pace for some fireworks as the season progresses.

Thing 4:  The return of Estero's Kolton Pickard could be something. He popped off a fine 9:14 3,000 opener at Ida Baker which is well under 10 minutes for 3,200. He's a runner with fire in the belly and I want to once again apologize to him for letting him down last week at the Strides 5K when he was trying to accomplish something special.

Thing 5:  Fort Myers senior Ryan Murphy was on the roads this weekend running a solid 17:36 at the Edison Festival of Lights 5K.  No, Ryan's not going to set the world on fire but I've watched him work over the last four years and finishing second at this race is nothing to sneeze at.  Way to go Ryan.

I could do a whole Five Things on the start of Krissy Gear's season at Arkansas, but I think we'll save that for the SEC indoor championships.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Track 2020

This week marks the official start of high school track and field practice in Florida.  2019 was epic and 2020 could be reach heights beyond our wildest expectations.2019 could be a historic year for high school middle distance running in Southwest Florida.  Sorry guys, this is the year of the woman.

Any one of a half dozen boys could be the it distance runner in Lee County this year. Estero's Hugh Brittenham's large shadow that dominated the state for the last two years.  He's now lacing them up for Florida so that begs the question, which runner or runners will dominate the scene.

Track and cross country really are two different sports so that doesn't mean the boys that owned the area during the fall of 2019 will show up in the spring.  Fort Myers has two runners capable of running dipping under 4:30 in the 1600 and 9:40 in the 3200, Liam Holston and Colsen Palmer.  Ida Baker senior Franklin Cacerces should be a handful as well.

SFCA's Ethan Tank is a year older and a year stronger and the junior distance runner showed a lot of promise as a sophomore.  And who knows what will rise out of the Estero fleet of distance runners.  Colton Tucker has a lot to prove going into his senior season and I like his chances.

The question is will a wild card emerge among the boys?  A couple of sophomores could emerge, Evan Meyer from Lehigh or Jacob Fritz from Ida Baker.  A season of cross country could help an injury free Oglar Bartolon from Dunbar as well.

The smoke show will come from the gals.  The Oliviera twins will leave ECS after this season as legends.  Both will compete next season for the University of Miami.  Moriah will keep her focus on the 400 which is a shame because her 800 potential is off the charts.  That leaves Sierra to make a little more history at the longer distance before graduation.  Sierra clocked 2:11.04 which is national class.  If she breaks 2:10 she will only be the third Lee County girl to do so.

Unfortunately for Sierra, another local stud stands in the way of her for a state title.  Canterbury's Jessica Edwards ran a 2:08.4 to defeat Oliviera for last spring's 1A state title.  With two more years of running at the high school level in front of her, Jess could do all sorts of damage to the best ever lists for Lee County girls.

She's capable of running 2:05 for the 800 and well under 4:50 in the 1600.  Edwards will dip her toes in the 400 where she wants to run 55 or better, that's stupendous speed for a middle distance runner.  The capper will be if she can overcome her reluctance at the longer distance where a sub 11 minute 3200 seems well within her grasp.

That brings us to the biggest question mark moving into the spring.  Can Fort Myers senior Stephy Ormsby capitalize on her stunning fall in cross country.  Ormsby was a 300 meter hurdler as a freshman.  She rounded into a state caliber 800 runner over her sophomore and junior years.

But Ormsby is a completely different athlete than the one who ran for the Green Wave last spring.  She transformed her body, leaning out, improving her endurance and becoming a real threat to take down some pretty big barriers this spring.

A healthy Ormsby will have no trouble running 2:15 in the 800, under 5 in the 1,600 and under 11 in the 3,200.  The question is, can she touch any of Krissy Gear's times.  Breaking 2:10 in the 800 would be monumental.  Running under 4:50 for 1600 is within reach.  I like her chances of running under 10:40 for the 3200.

To run those times Ormsby will need competition which she will only get at the FSU Relays and Florida's Pepsi meet.  My guts tell me she will focus on the 1600 because it's a more glamorous event.  I've seen a lot of great high school girls over the last 50 years and I think under the right conditions Ormsby could run under 10:30 for 3200.

Regardless, the distance women of Lee County will own this spring, mark my words.

Friday, January 10, 2020

750

As we roll into 2020, I roll into my 50th year as someone who identifies himself as a runner.  Evidence of it exists in the photo above.  I sit in the second row, on the left, the second in with the sweatshirt on because I wasn't good enough to merit a singlet.  I wasn't good enough to run any of the varsity events.  The only one I had a shot at was 440 yards and my 63 seconds was about three seconds too slow.

I went out for track with visions of Jim Ryun dancing in my head.  I had seen him run the previous spring at the Kansas Relays on a world record setting distance medley relay.  I wanted to run the mile, but it didn't exits at that time in the world of eigth grade high track and field.  I had the stubborn determination to be a distance runner.

I would spend my summer running about 200 miles in preparation of joining the Abilene High School cross country team.  I would make the varsity on a team that would eventually place third in the state of Kansas.  Unfortunately, I would transfer to another junior high in Lawrence, Kansas before that trip to State happened.

But I was a runner, probably logging north of 300 miles in 1970.  The total was certainly well less than the 750 miles I logged in 2019.  That total is the lowest I have run since 1971 when I ran my first competitive mile, a school record at South Junior High and a city record for one, very short year.  I would make the Lawrence High varsity cross country team as a sophomore that fall.

2019 marked only the second time since 1971 that I ran less than 1,000 miles in a year.  Having knee surgery at the end of November 2018 didn't help.  A brutal summer of heat didn't help.  Having a grand daughter nearly killed in a car crash didn't help.  And turning 64 didn't help either.

I managed to run only one race in 2019.  A 58 minute 10K in Naples that I thoroughly enjoyed my slowest time ever by four minutes.  It matched my total number of races from 2018, a half marathon in Riga in 2:04 that I thoroughly enjoyed, my slowest time ever by 10 minutes.  I know that if I forced myself to race more, I would train more.  My duties with the Fort Myers Track Club and owning my own running store has actually hurt my ability to race more than it has helped.  But that's a me problem.

The fact is, I am still a runner.  I may have plugged away at a barely sub 40 minute four mile this afternoon but it was a run nevertheless and I rue the day that I might not be able to lace up a pair of running shoes and hit the road.  I kept threatening to stop running and racing throughout my 40's and by the time I turned 50 I began to realize what a gift it is that I can still run and race.  I don't care about my times... much.  I just enjoy the feeling of pushing myself, something that I rarely if ever do in training runs anymore. 

I see it as a gift and one that is not to be taken for granted.  Here's to another 1,000 plus miles in 2020.


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Race Director

Don't read this as a look at me, I'm great or feel sorry for me or about me at all.  I just want to write about the difficulties involved with organizing a race, any race, but this one, River, Roots and Ruts comes with a unique set of challenges.  Let me start with the thing I hated most as a competitive runner. I hated running on a poorly marked course.  Once it cost me a win, another time it cost me a second place finish.  River, Roots and Ruts is a race begging for a runner to get lost.

Back in 2016, Steve Brookman, the race founder, says he's ready to give up River, Roots and Ruts.  It's a popular trail race in Lee County that offers a difficult course that's kind of dangerous and really beautiful.  The last year Steve was race director the run was held in the middle of a horrendous downpour.  Runners who loved this race were worried that this was the end so I stupidly offered to take over as race director.

In the fall of 2017 I realized I was hopelessly ill-prepared to take over this race.  If it weren't for trail nerd Phil Nissen the race might not have ever happened.  He got me out and made me familiar with the course.  Phil put together a half marathon that on the face of it seemed overly complicated.  There were too many turns and too many parts of the course that needed human bodies to make sure runners didn't get lost.  This is a race that requires a lot of volunteers and unfortunately I didn't do a good enough job of getting boots on the ground or getting them into the spots we needed them.

Even though I warned folks that they could get lost on the course, they did, and though the vast majority of runners took it for what it is.  Those that did complain stuck with me and those that criticized me, well, where were you when I needed help?  Wind had taken out one of the important course markers and that led some runners astray.  So it was back to the drawing board.

2018 came along and so had Hurricane Irma four months before our race.  The damage to the Caloosahatchee Regional Park was so severe the good folks with Lee County Parks told us if we wanted to race we had better push the date back at least two months.  As fate would have it the Hooters Half Marathon was going away so we pushed RRR to the Hooters date at the end of February.

This year with a ton of help from JeAnne Hertel and the Fort Myers Track Club we put together a half marathon course that we felt would a much better and easier to navigate.  Boy were we wrong.  After spending six hours on a Saturday carefully laying out tape, road markings a signs, a few idiots removed some of the key signs in the expansive Sun Meadows and again runners got lost.  A handful of runners bitched about it.  Why weren't we checking the course before the race.  The answer to that we would have to be out on the course at 4 a.m. covering the entire course on foot with a flashlight before the 8 a.m. start.

I was ready to give up the race.  I hated the stress.  I hated letting runners down.  Yet, JeAnne encouraged me to stick with it and I made the decision to dumb the race down.  I figured if we eliminated the troublesome Sun Meadows we would keep runners from getting lost.  The changes worked, except for a terrible stretch of the course which took runners through a horse trail with ankle high grass.  Plus we shortened it to 10 miles helping the race go fairly smoothly.

My problem was with the pre-race organization.  Lee County had tightened its application rules.  I suddenly was confronted by a mountain of paperwork.  I had to get more than a half dozen departmental approvals.  This goes hand in hand with trying to find sponsors which I am terrible at and getting the tremendous support of the Lee County Sports Authority, without those folks, there would be no River, Roots and Ruts.

The stress of dealing with the paperwork just about did me in.  But once again the folks at Lee County Parks were the reassuring voice in my ear.  Their support and organizational skills, especially from James Eash helped me get through this nerve wracking experience.  JeAnne Hertel deserves a lot of credit as well.

Now I would like to point out that it takes at least two to three hours to take the course down.  That's on top of the five to seven hours of setup to get it going.  Plus there is the endless help of the Mudcutters.  The course is the course on the north side thanks in large part to all of their help.

This brings us to 2020.  I was ready for the paperwork and I was ready to make the trail run even better by getting rid of the section of the course through the horse pasture.  We kept the runners on the challenging single track trail.  But I had built in a course issue for the uninitiated.  If you weren't paying close attention, you could end up doubling back on the trail and I failed to put a human being in a spot where runners needed to be directed back to the finish.  Once again, 20 or so people got
lost.  We guy went off on one of our teenage volunteers making an ass out of himself.

You see I spend the 90 minutes running around like a madman making sure water tables, volunteers and parts of the course get their finishing touches.  We can't mark the entire course the day before because part of the trail is open to bicyclists the day before and they take down and remove anything we put up that may interfere with their ride.

Once again, I had warned the 200 plus runners that they could get lost.  It's part of the hazards.  Just like the parts of the marked trail that had been monkeyed with by a group of uncaring bicyclists that were riding on the south part of the park which is forbidden by county rules.  We knew they could cause mischief and the industrious Addie Jenkinson repaired their damage after we had spent three hours on Saturday making the course idiot proof.

This year I was only nervous about the whole affair in the last week leading up to the race because we didn't get our medals until two days before the event.  The medals were not as good as I would have liked.  I will fix this for the 2021 event.  Just as I will fix the course mistake by making sure we have volunteers in the right spots so the event is a success.

This is a great trail race.  It is a challenging piece of real estate with incredible scenery.  The morning of the race this year I saw deer, a bounding bobcat and a family of wild hogs.  We will do better.  This race is going into its 18th year.  We've got a great sponsor in Hooters and the Lee County Sports Authority.  And remember this, I don't make a cent doing all of this work. Every dime made in this race goes to charity or to non-profit groups that work in support of the race.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Lee County's Decade

I must be honest.  When I first moved to Fort Myers 17 years ago I didn't pay close attention to the high school distance running scene.  Outside of Estero's Bona Jones, a Footlocker finalists, there just wasn't the quality of depth that you would see in the Midwest where I had lived much of my life.

Running in Southwest Florida isn't an easy task.  The lack of hills, the heat, and what I suspected, right or wrong, a lack of mileage being asked of the high school athletes in our area made for average results.  Estero's Jeff Sommer was starting to kick things into gear with his DDD program around the time I moved here.  It was focused on quality overquantity and his program was by far and away the most consistent in terms of success in Lee County.

It seemed from my limited perspective that a light switch started to come on by the end of the 2000's  largely due to DDD.  Suddenly Fort Myers was starting to compete with Estero in terms of consistently producing state caliber runners.  By 2010 Estero's Erick Montoya and Kacy Smith made it clear that Lee County was ready to start producing a steady stream of state caliber distance runners.

So the purpose of this blog is to name the top boy and girl distance runners over the past decade along with the top coach.  Looking over the decade we saw a dozen or so runners from the 800 to 3200 that made their names known across the state of Florida.  Fort Myers High produced the first and only boy's Footlocker Finalist from Lee County in Tyler Bennett.  His teammate Emily Edwards enjoyed stellar results.  Emily's sister Jessica who runs for Canterbury has more history to write as she put herself in the the conversation as the best 800 runner to come out of the area after running 2:08.  She has two more seasons to make history.

ECS has produced the Oliveira twins, but Sierra is the only middle distance specialist having clocked 2:11.04 with another year to join Jessica Edwards in the sub 2:10 club with the as yet unmentioned Krissy Gear from Fort Myers. Estero's Montoya and Smith brought were followed by more quality runners like Ayre Beck, Katy Slater, Daley Cline and Alyana Goll.  Riverdale's Chelsey Oliver and Kayla Easterly from North Fort Myers made their marks as well.

Lee County Girl Distance Runner of the Decade
The best of the best among the girls is the aforementioned Gear.  Soccer's loss was a massive gain for the sport of running.  The only chink in her armor was cross country.  Gear was very good, but not great on the turf.  She excelled on the track breaking 2:10, 4:50 and running close to 10:40 flat across the 800, 1600 and 3200 putting her in a league of her own.  Not only is she the best distance runner of the decade but she is clearly the greatest distance runner produced in Lee County, male or female.

Gear's influence on the Fort Myer's High School program wasn't only on the track.  It showed the young women that followed her what can be accomplished if you put your heart and soul into the sport.  Just look at Stephy Ormsby cross country season this past fall and that says it all.

Lee County Boy Distance Runner of the Decade
Estero's Hugh Brittenham caught my eye when he was a mere freshman, but I would have never guessed he would accomplish what he ended up doing in re-writing his school's record books.  The bomb dropped at the FSU Relays with a Friday night coming out party his junior year with a stunning 1:51.92 was stunning.  He left no doubt that he was the real deal following it up with a 4:12 1600 the next day.

Hugh became the first Lee County runner to break 4:10 in the 1600.  He capped his career with the difficult 1600/800 double gold at State and landed a scholarship to Florida.  He did it under the tutelage of three different coaches which is in and of itself even more remarkable.  Hugh may well be the best male high school runner in Lee County history although some would argue Cliff Betts who ran for Fort Myers in the mid-70's is in the conversation.  I plan to research his career to learn more about this three time state champion.

Lee County Coach of the Decade
Estero's Jeff Sommer is the only choice, not just for the runner's who he coached, but for his undeniable impact he add on other coaches across Lee County.  He forced coaches to up their game.  Just ask Rob Strong who coached at Cypress Lake and Fort Myers.  Rob will tell you that Sommer was the gold standard.   Sommer died doing what he loved best, coaching his girl's 4 X 800 team to a State Championship in 2015.  But his DDD program helped propel high school distance running across Lee County to it highest highs.