The first blog entry I ever wrote was published on June 15, 2012. I had decided to use the extra time afforded by the summer months to begin an on-going narrative which aimed to reflect on lessons learned from seasons’ past, chronicle the efforts of the current squad, and offer both motivation and praise to team members. I had no expectations or grand designs, but began writing simply as an experiment, hoping that telling a story of our team in a manner different than the traditional newspaper articles might have the benefit of inspiring the individuals I coached to see their efforts as part of something bigger than themselves. I was not sure if, or how long, the blog would continue, nor had I much inkling of what the next few years would hold in store for our program. I did, however, have high aspirations, as that very first post, read with the benefit of hindsight, reveals:
June 15, 2012-Entry #1-Looking back, looking ahead
As a new season of Cross Country is about to get underway, I thought it would be useful to think back on how our most recent track season ended as a way of setting the stage for the incoming group. As you all know, the last Hinsdale Central runners to feel the track beneath their feet in the 2012 season were Ted Owens, Neil Pedersen, Jack Feldman, and Mike Korompilas in the state finals of the 3200 meter relay. That race will be one I always remember and seems, in retrospect, an appropriate coda to that particular senior class, and an end to a significant chapter in the development of our program. The race contained in less than eight minutes all the elements of epic drama: underdogs doing battle against well-seasoned opponents, thrilling surges, moments of ecstasy and agony, and, ‘ultimately, a conclusion that fell just short of our dreams. (NOTE: In the final straightaway of the second leg, Neil Pedersen pulled us into the lead, but in the end, we finished 11th, just out of the medals). Nonetheless, the four runners on that relay could leave with their heads held high, and as coaches, we could not have been prouder.
In short, I think the 2011-2012 year will be remembered as the seasons that marked our program’s arrival as one of the premier distance squads in state: we were regional champions in Cross Country, runner-up at Conference and Sectionals, and reached state for the second straight year…The challenge, then, for the 2012 XC team is to prove to the state that we are not ‘one-hit wonders’ but a perennial powerhouse. The 2010 and 2011 teams laid a solid foundation, and it is now our privilege and duty to build upon it.
As the year 2016 begins, I find myself, and our program, at another transition point. In May of 2016 I will turn 36. Half of that life was spent as a child and a student in grade schools. The other half constituted college and graduate school, joining the teaching profession, getting married, buying a home, and, finally, becoming a father. Now a third phase of life begins, marked foremost by being a parent but secondarily by taking on a new role as head Track and Field Coach.
I take over the position of head coach from Jim Kupres, who I have worked with for the past decade on both the Cross Country and Track teams. Jim will remain on staff, assisting with the middle distance runners. I am fortunate to be taking over a staff that he largely assembled, which is among the most competent and motivated in state. It is my challenge to build upon the foundation he established, and it is my goal to take the team to a new level; while we’ve achieved great success with our Cross Country program over the past few years, the Track and Field team has not yet developed to the point where we can challenge perennially for the conference or sectional titles, to say nothing of contending for a trophy at state.
Part of my decision to apply for the head coach position was the opportunity to share my passion for this sport with a wider audience. My hope is that members of the track team from events beyond distance will begin to read this blog, along with their parents (though, admittedly, now that I myself am a parent, the opportunities to write blog posts may be fewer).
In that spirit, let me offer that hoped for new audience a brief explanation of how the blog has evolved and of how I hope to use it in my new capacity as head coach.
I have several groups I hope to reach through this blog: first and foremost, current and former team members, along with their friends and family. Secondly, the wider high school cross country and track community, including athletes and coaches from other teams. My goals include profiling current team members, telling bits of our program’s history, offering context for meets beyond what can be read through a look at the results page, putting forth ideas about how to improve our team and our sport, educating athletes and families about the unique challenges posed by Cross Country and Track, and sharing some of my own experiences running and coaching, which have informed my approach.
If there is one major idea that animates my coaching philosophy, it is that there is a great sense of purpose one feels in working together with a group towards a common goal. In Cross Country, our goal the past three years has been to earn a trophy at state. In 2013 and 2014, we exceeded those goals, not just getting a trophy, but winning outright. Those state titles will forever be two of my proudest achievements, and memories of those two November days continue to make me smile. In 2015, we fell short of our goal, but the pursuit of it was no less purposeful.
I don’t try to sell our sport by arguing that it will be fun. Training is not comfortable, and I don’t pretend otherwise. However, learning how to manage that discomfort leads to growth. Speaking personally, I rarely enjoy my runs, but I almost always feel good after finishing. I feel accomplished and I feel fit. The daily pain and discomfort brought on by running with the team at practice is more than offset by the fulfilling sense of identity I get as a coach for the Hinsdale Central Cross Country and Track teams. I hope it will be so for the kids I coach as well.
As their coach, what I hope to instill is genuine confidence that comes from achieving something that seemed impossible. The most rewarding moments of coaching come from when an athlete has that ‘breakthrough’ race and suddenly realizes they are capable of much more than they’d once believed. Our role as coaches is to try to identify that potential in athletes before they see it in themselves, and then guide them to discovering it.
This guidance can differ depending on the particular sport, but the common elements include setting high expectations and holding student/athletes to them, pushing students to never give less than their best at practice, teaching them how to handle the pressure of major competitions, helping them see evidence of their improvement, and celebrating their accomplishments with them. We have generally managed to uphold these values, and will continue to do so. That part won’t change.
So what will be different in 2016 for the Hinsdale Central Track and Field team?
-We will be meeting together as a team every Monday. This is part of our efforts to promote a greater sense of team unity, something sorely lacking in some years past.
-We welcome to our staff our new throws coach, Mr. Dan Daly. Coach Daly spent the last 14 years as the throws coach over at Hinsdale South, where he also has served as an assistant varsity football coach. This past fall, he helped the Hornets Football team reach the final four, their best ever finish. Coach Daly brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, along with great enthusiasm and a refreshingly upbeat attitude. He will be an excellent addition to our staff.
-We will have a new free lap timing system which will allow us to get accurate split times for distances as short as ten meters, which will greatly assist in our sprints training. The ‘freelap system’ is cutting edge technology that is used by many of the best track coaches across the country. Thanks to a generous grant from the Hinsdale Central boosters, we were able to get one for our program.
-We will have a new logo as a symbolic representation of our new identity:
This identity will be rooted in a common quest: to win a conference outdoor title, something we have achieved only once since World War II on the varsity level; and to have all team members finish the season faster and stronger than when they started.
To be a bit high minded, it is my hope that we can take the diverse and disparate parts of our track team and out of them form a whole. We’ll have 300 pound throwers and 100 pound freshman distance runners, 9th graders and 12th graders, guys coming to us from soccer, football, and cross country (among other sports), guys of different ability levels and from different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. It should truly be the most diverse team in the school. Heterogeneity poses challenges: how do you get people so different to find common cause? But diversity also can be a source of strength, as creativity is fostered by the clash of different ideas. My hope is to incubate a culture that embraces these differences while also channeling them in the same direction, towards a sense that we are all working for the same cause, like different battalions of a military all fighting, some by land, some by sea, some by air, for the same ideals.
It can sound silly, but I refuse to give up my romantic notions about sport. Though many of the Track and Field events are much more technical skills than cross country running, it is the spirit of competition that lies at the heart of both. Let us, HC tracksters, strive to achieve that famous Latinate trifecta: citius, altius, fortius. So long as we join that quest together, I promise the effort will be worthwhile.