It's Thanksgiving and just like everyone else, we all are thankful for something! Cross Country and Track & Field are sports that require a lot of individual effort in order to accomplish your goals. It definitely is hard work and not everyone can do it, let alone be good at it. At times, you may think it's a thankless effort but really, it's not. There are a lot of rewards out of these sports, and a lot of them are internal and unique to everyone involved. So in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, here's some things that I'm thankful for...
That it didn't rain on this year's cross country state championships. Oh yea, it poured the day before and we had some mud and water on the course. I'm thankful for that, it is cross country by the way! But the temperature didn't go below freezing, and the top guns for the season were at their best, making for another great championship.
President Abraham Lincoln was first to make Thanksgiving a national holiday and a whole country is thankful for that. Maybe not as impressive as that, but another first came this year in the state. With the Winders brothers at the tip of the arrow, Henry County made their first every cross country championships as a team! And what I'm even more thankful for, the Winders brother were very much aware that it took more than just them (Javon and Titus) to get the team there - teamwork, they understand it. That's worth a big thanks.
In the late 19th century, the Turkey Trot was a ballroom dance that was inspired by the bird's characteristic short, jerky steps. It was a pretty popular dance during those times. And although these girls certainly don't have any of those short jerky steps in their running form, I am thankful for the Houston girls cross country team that came into the season as one of the favorites and didn't disappoint throughout the season. I watched them compete all season and those girls didn't skip a beat. Then the state championship comes along and their top runner, Ella Baran runs into some trouble about half way through and then again near the finish. She was hurting. Is that going to drop them out of the state title. Nope. That team rallied around each other, knew their top runner was struggling, and kept it together and still won. Not an easy thing to do under those circumstances. Michelle Myers took to the front and the team supported each other to still take the title. Then they checked on their top runner and she was ok. Thankfully.
Although Anders Pokela (Baylor) and Jack Clunan (Father Ryan) probably won't get a lot of thanks from the Brentwood Academy cross country boys team, I'm thankful to have got to see that State 19 point performance this season. Anders and Jack were the ones that broke up a perfect score for the BA boys, however, I'm sure the BA team is still very thankful for the State Championship title this season!
For Luke Mead who after winning the state championship in dominating fashion, was on his cool down run - and as you all know, the warm up and cool down are very important components of a good training regimen. Well... Luke is on his cool down, minding his own business, when he passes by one of the girls teams getting together to take a team picture. A second or two goes by as he passed the picture taking team, one girl shouts out... hey Luke, can we get a picture! Luke hesitates, slows up, then turns around and with a huge smile on his face, says "sure... why not!" So he interrupts his cool down and jumps in the middle to get a picture! Enjoying every minute of it for sure! Now really, how cool is that! Cross Country... everyone roots for each other and I'm thankful for that!
The Snoopy balloon has made more appearances in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade than any other exhibit in the parade. That's some consistent performance by Snoopy for sure! It's been a while since we had a sub-17 performance by a girl in TN. Pretty thankful that we finally broke that streak this year in the cross country 5K... with Rebecca Story (CAK) running 16:57.44 at the Jesse Owens this season. And of course, between Rebecca and Taylor Cuneo (Central Magnet), we were given some good stories and competitions to look forward to all season. I think the last sub 17 time was Kathy Kroeger in 2007. So yea, thanks Rebecca for dropping that time down this season and breaking the streak of those 17 minute seasons! Here's hoping we can make Snoopy proud and keep on a streak of under 17 performances!
Also thankful for Skylar Boogerd (Arlington) and Meghan Underwood (St. Benedict) who showed us the big picture when it comes to sports. During the Shelby County championships, Skylar is hurting and collapses. Meghan stops to help her up so she can finish. Skylar's teammate is there as well. Someone snaps a picture and suddenly, as happens with social media now, the picture goes viral. There it is, a teammate and a competitor helping an athlete with their goal - to finish the race. Think about it, if Skylar collapses and Meghan is there to help, Skylar had to be in front of - beating - Meghan in the race but she still stops to help. She could have won against a competitor that she'll see again for a while (Skylar a freshman, Meghan a sophomore). But that's not the end of it. The next day, Skylar makes a visit to SBA to give Meghan a thank you gift. She makes the effort to thank her for her help. That's two girls - two very talented girls - that are true examples of what cross country and track is about - they understand the sport and they care about the competition... because they know it's what makes you better! I'm thankful we have this level of integrity and compassion among the competition with these talented girls. Great for the sport in every possible way!
Butterball has a "turkey hot-line" during Thanksgiving that is there to help you keep your turkey day a tradition versus a really bad memory. Although he has no hot line to call, I'm thankful for Jim Kaiser for keeping the Jr. Ward TN high school XC classic tradition going strong every year. He has some help, but basically keeps this meet going almost all by himself. He understands the tradition behind some of the meets in this state and goes a step further by acting on his understanding and keeping this meet going strong each year! And there are a lot of you out there that do the same and we all are thankful for that!
And speaking of meets, I'm very thankful to Bill Hoffman of Christian Brothers University for organizing and hosting the Brooks Twilight Classic each year. This is a huge meet that brings TN cross country on the map! The meet is a big bull's eye for a lot of schools - high school, middle school and college. It's a great way to show off how important cross country is to the state of Tennessee! Thanks Bill!
And of course, Jasen Parks, the TN Mile Split administrator. You wouldn't be reading this article without him. The meet results, the athlete profiles, the rankings, the pictures, meet entry, articles, videos.... The TN Mile Split site is great, and the whole Mile Split network... oh yea, I'm super Thankful for it!
Looking across the state at the Knoxville Youth Athletics, Memphis Youth Athletics and Nashville Youth Athletics... you certainly have to be thankful to these coaches for introducing cross country and track/field to so many young athletes... and I mean a LOT of young athletes! Sometimes a thankless task but still worth a very huge thanks!! The recent NYA team's recent success is proof positive there is a lot to be thankful among the coaches that help these young athletes experience our wonderful sports!
And all the meet directors across the state that take the time to organize and execute great meets in cross country and track throughout the state. It's not easy to do but great for the sport! Look at the pages and pages of rankings on the TN Mile Split site and your impact is phenomenal... so many athletes get to run, jump and throw.... Yea... I'm almost feeling a hug here everyone!! Ok, ok... never mind, just a big Thanks!
And thanks to all the coaches! Head Coaches, Assistant Coaches, Club Coaches, Volunteer Coaches....
Let's give a big thanks to Vanderbilt University for building such a wonderful indoor track and most especially for them opening it up to high school meets. Tons of US Top 20's set last season there. That puts the club action for indoor track on the map for the state! Now I like that for sure! Thanks Vanderbilt Track & Field!
Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national bird. He is reported to have said that the turkey was a much more respectable bird than the eagle. I'm glad there were people out there that were strong enough to stand up for the eagle. The state track and field championships has a lot of strong volunteers as well. They are who make that meet go off without problems. They spend many hours on the track helping and officiating the events. You have to be thankful for those folks! I even saw a few younger ones stepping up this past season (Brodie Myers for one) and that too is great to see! Just watch the 800M race and watch how many flags go up all across the track as the athletes go around the oval for those two laps... a lot of volunteers for sure! And even more thankful to see our Clerk Doug Dennett checking in the athletes at every State Track & Field meet since who knows when!
Wild turkeys can run over 20 miles an hour at their top end. Domesticated turkeys, well, they aren't exactly the speedsters by any means. But I'm thankful to see that among the top 20 returners in the state for the boys 100M dash, there are only six seniors. That means that a young group of very fast athletes will be around for a while in the sprints. And in the boys 800M, there are 20 athletes that have marks under the 2 minute time. And five boys under 4:20 in the 1600. Ten girls come into the track season with times under 5:10 and only three are seniors. And we are seeing similar statistics all across every event in TN. We are looking at a really strong group of athletes in Track & Field for several years to come, and be assured that every one of them can out-run those domesticated turkeys!! I'm giving thanks to that for sure!
Tryptophan is an amino acid found in turkey that many people believe causes drowsiness after the big meal. Well, not really so true since turkey has about the same as most other meats. It's the big intake of carbohydrates that's likely the cause. And for those cross country runners and the track & field multi-event athletes, carbs are a familiar term in their pursuit of good nutrition. So finishing up this article, I am thankful for the talent we have in this state when it comes to the athletes that choose the Multi-Events as their track event of choice. The girls have to go through five and the boy's ten events before they can slow down and give thanks! Now that's tough!
I'm thankful too that the #1 Decathlete in the country still resides in Tennessee. George Patrick of Brentwood Academy reached that performance title as a junior. And he signed with Texas to continue his decathlon career. By the way, that's the same school his dad went to - and by the way, his dad was an all-American in the Decathlon at Texas. A member of the National Honor Society, George chose Texas over other schools that really wanted him too.... Anyone that knows George, knows he's a passionate Track & Field competitor. I'm thankful TN has such a great athlete, especially one that understands the tradition this sport can bring! Thankful we have his senior year to watch coming our way this spring, especially since he tops the rankings for returning athletes in way more than just the Decathlon!
And of course, not to leave the girls Multi's out of the picture here. I'm saving what I think is the best for the last! Tyra Gittens (Ensworth) and Kiara Rhodes (Whitehaven) are currently ranked #1 and #2 in the nation. That's two Tennessee athletes leading the way for this season. And if you really want to be thankful, go down the list and notice how many Tennessee girls are on the list and where they are ranked. For returning athletes, Tennessee has eight girls ranked in the top 20! Six of those in the top 10. Tyra #1, Kiara #2, Angelica Lightfoot (5, Southwind), Grenetria Shell (6, east Nashville Magnet), Lennex Walker (8, Chattanooga School for the Arts), and Jordan Shackleford (10, Evangelical Christian). That's a lot of thanks right there!!
So... as the cross country season winds down and we get ready to train for the Track & Field season, sit down and have your turkey this Thursday and remember to be thankful that you are part of unquestionably one of the most purest of sports.... Cross country and Track & Field!
"Thank you consists of just eight letters that form two of the most meaningful words in the English vocabulary." Doborak Norville, American TV journalist.
See you on the track...
and of course - Thank you!