In our team meeting this morning, after reviewing the day’s itinerary, I concluded by sharing two thoughts: first, that I had no regrets about our training this season and would not have changed how we prepared for state; and second, that, no matter the outcome, I (along with Coach Westphal, Kupres, and Snee) was and will continue to be incredibly proud of each and every one of the young men who were there listening to us, soon to head to Detweiller.
Cross Country is a mysterious sport. I genuinely felt as though we were ready to have our best races of the season, but, dispiritingly – and with one notable exception – we ran our worst. After two state meets in a row of experiencing the purest elation at the close of the day, we left Peoria today humbled and a bit shell-shocked. It wasn’t a matter of not giving it our all – our seven men certainly did that. It just wasn’t our day. I can’t explain why. Our game plan was no different from the previous two years, but the outcome was the polar opposite. I wish I had the answers, but I don’t.
The one genuine highlight came from Blake Evertsen, our heralded junior. Blake ended fourth overall, the highest finisher in our school’s long history. He was within one second of the runner-up position, just edged by Sandburg’s Chris Torpy and York’s Charlie Kern. Between Kern, Blake, and OPRF’s Irwin Loud, the WSC is already shaping up to be as intensely competitive as ever next season. A silver lining on today’s outcome is that Blake will be back to help lead us next season, as we aim to recapture a trophy. It is certainly not too soon to make that declaration.
As for the rest of our top seven, I can say this: we went for it. The race splits show us in third place at the mile mark. The men on our team followed pre-race instructions and got out very hard, so as to avoid traffic around the first turn. It is a strategy that worked wonders for us in 2013 and 2014, though it may have worked against us today. But, I think of the famous Teddy Roosevelt quotation:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
We did not toe the line today with the goal of getting second. We ran to win. We failed in the attempt. There is no shame in that.
Some perspective taking is necessary. In the 70 years in which the IHSA has hosted the state meet, our 9th place finish today represents the fifth best final place ever for Hinsdale Central. There was a time, not long ago, when we’d have been thrilled to place that high. The last two seasons changed our program, so that now 9th place seems a disappointment, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. However, no teams in the state will be feeling sorry for us. Over the past three seasons, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to enjoy success beyond what we once thought possible. The best way to think about today’s performance (as I told our top 12 after the race) is not to view it as a singular moment but to put in the context of the arc of the four years of high school. In that time, Nathan, Chris, and Andrew – along with all their senior teammates, have seen the team finish 12th, 1st, 1st, and 9th – a pretty remarkable record, and one most high school cross country runners never get to be a part of.
And so, the emotion I feel more than any other as I write this is gratitude. Gratitude to the parents of our runners who have entrusted us with their care over these past months and years; who have made the trips to the meet locations each weekend, changed schedules to accommodate practices and meets, and juggled career and family responsibilities in order to make it possible for their boys to devote so much time, effort, and emotion to our program. Gratitude to our alumni, who continue to give back to our program through messages of support, through the care they continue to show to each other and to their former teammates, and for the passion they still have for cross country. Gratitude to our current team members who may not have made the top 12 but who contributed to our program just as much. Taking a page from the playbook of the great Fayette-Manlius coach Bill Aris, we encourage our athletes to be contributors rather than participants. The boys on our team who travelled down to the Peoria to cheer on their teammates are exemplary in this regard: each has given 100% effort on a daily basis, and in so doing has enriched the culture of our team.
I feel gratitude towards Sean O’Connell, John Bynan, Ben Schieders, Jacob Belgrad, and Steven Zaher – the five athletes who comprised our official ‘alternates’ this season. How gratifying to know all five will return next season, along with others including Emmett Grundberg, Colin Yandel, Sam Schiavitti, Mac Anderson, and Alec Hill, to help join the quest which has begun already.
I feel gratitude towards Blake Evertsen, Ethan Planson, Ryan Doorhy, and Sam Fathizadeh. They comprise a battle-tested foursome that will form the core of that quest, with a strong supporting cast waiting in the wings. With a year of experience running at state, they will be better prepared next season, as we do battle once again.
I feel gratitude to Chris Brenk, Andrew Irvine, and Nathan Hill. This is not the conclusion I scripted for them, but though they have run their final cross country race as a Red Devil, I hope they can take solace in knowing how much I appreciate their investment into our program. All three had to overcome adversity in their careers with us, but all three have kept the faith. They persevered through the hard times, as they will through this difficult moment of their high school running career. All three are men of exemplary character, who teachers in my department often speak highly of whenever the conversation in the office drifts to cross country. All three, I think and hope, will continue to run in college, where other highlights await. I thank them for making challenging goals and pursuing them with every fiber of their being. You can never be judged anything other than admirable when you do that.
Finally, I feel gratitude to Megan, my wife, and for the child we’ll be meeting in three weeks or less. Looming over this season has been the awe-inspiring knowledge that, at its conclusion, a completely unprecedented and thrilling epoch of my life will begin soon after. The season is now over. In so many different ways, a new chapter begins.