In praise of our seniors
I have often said that I will quit coaching track the moment the guys under my guidance cease improving. Fortunately, the current class of graduating seniors makes me look good – their growth from freshman year ensures my job security a bit longer. Below you will find a chart where you can trace the progression of each athlete from where they were at the conclusion of their first season of track to where they are now, as we near the end of their high school athletic careers. Of course, numbers cannot tell the whole story, so below the chart I will fill in with narrative a context to make those statistics come to life.
One of the best and worst aspects of coaching is that every year, we have to say goodbye. I imagine it is a poignant and reflective moment for parents watching their sons or daughters walk onto the stage at commencement to receive their diploma, signifying as it does that the future years will be dramatically different from the past. The predominant feelings must be those of pride tinged by wistful nostalgia.
As teachers and coaches, we feel that, too, though our relationship is obviously a bit different with the young people who we’ve had the good fortune to guide and mentor for a few years. I say that having to say goodbye is the worst because each individual is truly unique: there will never be anyone quite like Nick Tandle, for example. It is also the best, though, because unlike parents who will never get to see their son participate in high school athletics again, we get to return every year to work with a new group.
When this current crop of seniors was that young group, we knew only that a few of them had older siblings that ran for us (Sunil, Joey, Josh, Austin) and that they were a serious and hard-working group (thanks in large part to the leadership of Matt McBrien, Alex Domiano, and Josh Feldman – three of the most diligent and committed runners of our tenure). What developed over time was a group that proved to be studious (there were countless conversations between Matt Tobia, Max Maydanchik, and Sean O’Flaherty about advanced economics, philosophy, politics and literature) yet insouciant (and other conversations between Brendan, Alex, Joey, Stefan, and Garrett about the best place to get Burritos, what socks to wear, and how to delay the beginning of the warm-up). This was a group that had to deal with a lot of adversity – Alex, Griffin, Austin, Matt, Sean, Stefan, Garrett, and Nick all had to overcome serious bouts of illness and injury at some point in their four years – and yet it was a group that got to experience moments of highest elation (hoisting up the state championship trophy in cross country both their junior and senior years).
What most amazes me about this group is that they entered into a program that had only modest success up to that point (in Jack Feldman’s four years at Central, the team had finished 25th in state, missed qualifying, finished 14th, and then finished 16th). They were the class that revolutionized our program, bringing us to the very top of the mountain and keeping us there. Thus, the current talented group of sophomores have been cultivated in a cultural environment, created and sustained by our current seniors, where high expectations are the norm and hard work a prized value. This was, of course, true of previous classes (each class builds on the previous) yet perhaps what makes this group different is simply their mindset: success is now an expectation rather than an aspiration.
I am a history teacher, so I love to consider how themes and ideas echo through the ages (a favorite professor of mine once said, ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but there are ripples.’). The first group that saw any kind of team success was the graduating class of 2012. When they were sophomores, Jack Feldman, Tom Lyons, Arjun Reddy, Neil Pedersen, and Ted Owens led us to our first ever invitational victory at the Hornet Red-Devil invite. Josh Feldman, then just entering junior high, may have been on the sidelines at the meet. While that group did not get the ending they deserved in Cross Country, they went on to be the only group we’ve yet coached to make state finals in the 4*800, and in the process set an example for younger runners to follow. Josh and his fellow current senior learned well from them, and carried the torch higher yet. Next year, Alec Hill will be a freshman while his older brother Nathan is a senior; just as Josh had been a freshman during Jack’s senior year. What will Nathan and his current junior teammates teach to the incoming 8th graders? How will the cycle continue? I can’t wait to find out.