I am a White Sox fan. During my first year teaching at Hinsdale Central (2005), the South Siders won their first world series since 1917, which obviously also meant the first title I’d had the pleasure of witnessing in my quarter century of life. It was a challenging time for me, as I’d recently moved back home to the Chicago suburbs after having spent the previous seven years studying and working in the pastoral fields of Iowa. Though I did have a year and a half of experience teaching, my first job had been in the tiny farm town of Lamoni, Iowa. The population of Hinsdale Central high school was literally greater than the population of that rural hamlet, and the sterling academic reputation of my new employer necessitated that I prove my worth. What is more, though I was back near the town I grew up in, most of my peers had moved away. I had not yet been around long enough at Hinsdale to have developed any close relationships, and so my first months were punctuated by periods of solitude and occasional loneliness.
I became a White Sox fan because my best childhood friend, a boy named Patrick who lived down the block from me, suggested I should be. My parents weren’t much interested in professional sports, though both hailed from suburban Detroit and would have claimed the Tigers as their team of choice if pressed. Patrick’s family were huge Sox fans, though, and since I spent many afternoons playing sports in their backyard, the Pale Hose became my team of choice. Incidentally, Patrick is also the reason I became a Cross Country runner, as it was he who insisted I not quit after my first day on the middle school team.
On the evening of game four of the 2005 World Series, though, Patrick was half a country away, stationed out in Maryland as a member of the Coast Guard. My other closest friends were in St. Louis, San Francisco, and Seattle. I knew I wanted to watch the potential series winner with friends, understood that it is the social aspect of Championships that renders them so memorable and fun. I called a friend still living in Elmhurst, but could not get a hold of him (this was an era just before text messaging became the norm). I called another friend, Rob, a former college teammate, and he did agree to watch the game with me, though he was not a Sox fan and thus far less invested than I was in the game’s outcome. Rob was living on the Northside of Chicago, though attending law school at University of Chicago (his girlfriend, now wife, was enrolled in a graduate program at DePaul). Of all places, I ended up meeting him at Murphy’s Bleachers, literally across the street from Wrigley Field. That is correct – I watched my White Sox win their first World Series in 88 years in the shadows of the Friendly Confines.
I was reflecting on that moment last night, as I watched television footage of crowds erupting in celebration after the Cubs secured their first pennant since 1945. For the many who were not among the extremely privileged select who scored tickets to the game, the impulse seemed to be to gather in groups. Championship moments are rare in Chicago, and in the sport of baseball come sometimes literally less than once a lifetime. It was clear that for those for whom being a Cubs fan was integral to identity (a much broader swath of the Middle West, thanks to televised coverage on WGN), who understood the culture and history of the team, and who had endured decades of mediocrity punctured by moments of heartbreak, the need was there to share the victory. My social media feeds became instantly clogged with friends and acquaintances who could not contain their joy to themselves, who, by posting a message or tweeting out their emotion, sought connection with other celebrants.
Thus is the power of team, whether it be one for whom you’ve been a lifelong fan, or one whom you’re a part. It is a compact to share a destiny, be it good or bad. This is something I think we all want, to feel we belong, to have others to suffer with and, perhaps more importantly, to revel with on those rare occasions when the work of months or years pays off in exactly the manner you’d envisioned in your most sincere and earnest imaginings. This is what I love so much about coaching, to know that Hinsdale Central Cross Country is a program I can become both a lifelong fan and member of, every year bringing with it its share of high emotion.
What the 2016 season will ultimately bring remains as unknown as the outcome of the upcoming Cubs-Indian series. What story has been written so far though, is of a team slowly coalescing, hitting speed bumps, working through the challenge of absurdly high expectation. I will make this argument: I believe we have the best #6-10 in the state of Illinois. No trophies are given for that distinction, but I confess pride in it. Our full depth was on display at the Regional meet yesterday, where we rested three of our usual top 7, including our top two finishers from Conference, and managed to place all seven of our athletes in the top 12, separated by just 20 seconds. A trifecta of seniors led the way, with Ryan Doorhy, Ethan Planson, and Jan Erik Naess all finishing within one second of each other in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place. Ryan and Ethan rebounded nicely from disappointing conference races, while Jan Erik made good the promise he showed in winning the JV race last week.
Next came lanky junior Neil Cumberland in 8th, five seconds ahead of teammates Ben Schnieders and Jacob Belgrad who came across together in 9th and 10th. Both Ben and Jacob are seniors, both are passionate about the sport, and both ran lifetime best times.
Sam Schiavitti finished off a strong junior campaign with a 12th place finish. He ran 15:34 at Detweiller three weeks ago and is our #10 man! While his racing is likely over for this season, we know he will be among our leaders next year.
In the end, we scored 26 points to easily take the Regional title. It was our fourth regional title in a row, and the fifth in five years. We scored one point more than last year, but our 6th and 7th finished lower at Regionals than any team we’ve ever coached. After a season of frustrating races and plenty of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishes it felt good to earn the win, no matter how comparatively small the field was. For the first time, all seven athletes ran solid races in what we hope portends the pattern for our remaining two competitions.
And, yet, there was touch of pathos in the victory. We are now facing up closer to the reality that there are going to be some incredibly deserving athletes who do not make our top seven. They are athletes who would make the varsity of almost every other team in the state save two or three. They are athletes who have devoted tremendous time and energy in large part because their dream was to represent Hinsdale Central at the Illinois High School state Cross Country meet. It will be very tough for them and for me when they do not get the opportunity to do so.
Who those athletes are is not yet clear. Next week, we’ll return a fresh and rested Blake Evertsen, Sean O’Connell, and Sam Fathizadeh to the lineup and will approach the Sectional meet with one simple goal: to advance to the Illinois State Championships and in so doing earn the right to test our mettle against the top programs in the state. Whichever seven athletes end up representing us at that meet, should we be so fortunate to get there, will have the added weight of knowing they earned a precious chance, one desperately sought by teammates whose hard work most certainly matched their own. Some guys will get to run, others, just as deserving, will not. What is most important, though, is that we will be there together.