Month: May 2010

Ashley And Me

I’ve lived in Indiana for nearly seven years now. In that time, I’ve been to three Notre Dame football games, an Indiana basketball game, a Purdue football game, a Colts (preseason) game, and a Pacers game. I’ve also watched high school basketball players like Josh McRoberts, Eric Gordon, Michael Conley, and Greg Oden. My Indiana sports resume had two glaring omissions, however. I’ve yet to go to a Butler game at Hinkle Fieldhouse, and I’ve never been to an Indianapolis 500.

Notice I said had. I knocked a big one off the list by attending my first Indy 500 on Sunday.

Why did it take me seven years to get to a race? Well, I’m not a big race fan for starters. Sitting in the heat for hours watching cars go around the track over-and-over never appealed to me. Also, this is the first spring since we moved here that we’ve not either been pregnant or had a sub one-year-old in the house. Finally, I’ve heard the horror stories about people getting stuck in traffic for hours. I thought the smart move was just to take that option out of the equation by staying home and listening to the race and then watching the replay that night.

But my step-dad decided he wanted to go to the race this year,1 so I bucked up and decided I should see what the fuss is all about.

I had two big goals for the day: make the commute as stress-free as possible and avoid a blistering sunburn.

We packed up and left the house at 8:00 a.m. In 45 minutes we came to a grinding halt, but we were a mile from the track. It took another 30 minutes to crawl closer and find a decent parking spot, followed by a 15-20 minute walk to the track. After picking up our tickets we were in our seats at 10:00. A totally acceptable commute when roughly 250,0002 people are trying to get to do the same thing.

We walked around a bit, but without pit passes, we couldn’t see a whole lot of good stuff. So we returned to our seats and waited. And waited. And waited. The race didn’t start until 1:00 and there really wasn’t much going on until 11:30 or so, when they began towing the cars out to the starting grid. I slathered on sunscreen and did some people watching.

Oh, our seats were decent, but not great. We were in the main straightaway, across from the entrance to pit row. But we were very low, just five rows up, limiting our field of view. We could see down to turn four, then roughly half of the main straightaway before the cars disappeared from view. It would have been nicer to be higher up so we could see more of the front side of the track.

Also, we were right in the sun. As we sat and waited, we baked. My stepdad and his friend were smart enough to go up into the higher seats that were shaded. I chose to stay in our seats and guard the cooler. Luckily, the sunscreen came through and I did not get burned. I was drenched in sweat, though. Thankfully, just as the race started, the sun passed behind the overhang and we were in the shade.3

After all the pre-race festivities, it was finally race time. Three parade laps and then the green flag dropped. Everyone I’ve talked to who has been to a race, whether IRL or NASCAR, has said there’s nothing like the opening lap, when all the cars are bunched together and each throttle is floored. I can report those claims are accurate. It’s pretty amazing to have 33 cars come to speed right in front of you and blow past. Everyone stands and cheers and there’s a sense of relief that the waiting is over and the event is finally starting.

Once the cars pass, everyone shifts view to the many video boards that show the action. It took about 15 seconds before a collective “OOOOOOH!” went up and everyone pointed at the screens. A crash on lap one! By the time the cars came around again, the pace car was back in front and they were slowed down to caution speed.

A few laps of yellow, clean up, and we went back to green. That was the upside to our seats, each time there was a restart we got to see them shoot out of turn four and rocket towards the start-finish line. The sound is the same as you hear on TV, just a lot louder, obviously. But one difference is you hear the cars literally ripping through the air. It sounds a little like a flag whipping around in a heavy wind, times about 100. It’s odd because you hear that sound before the car passes.

A couple laps later, another yellow. Was it going to be one of those days?

Fortunately, things improved from there on. There were a few wrecks, but there were also long stretches of uninterrupted racing. In the early laps after a restart, it’s interesting to have 15-20 seconds of relative silence as the cars circle the opposite side of the track. You can’t hear the person next to you when the cars go by, so people try to squeeze in quick conversations during those breaks. They don’t last long, though. Within a few laps, the cars have stretched out and the stragglers are well behind the leaders. Also, a significant chunk of the fans wear some kind of hearing protection, either ear plugs or heavy headphones. It’s tough to hold a conversation when your ears are stopped up.

It was obvious early Dario Franchitti had the best car. He took the lead from the start, and once they had a long stretch without yellows, he blew the field away. At one point he would race by us and we would look to turn four and still not see the second place car. His lead was up to ten seconds at one point, which is nearly a third of a lap.

While a lot of the established drivers are very popular, there is an obvious fan-favorite at Indy: Tony Kanaan. He’s been close many times, but hasn’t been able to get a win at Indy. This year he had a horrible qualifying weekend and ended up squeezing into the field in the final position. But everyone knew if his car was right, he had a chance to get into the mix before the race was over.

That was the case. He quickly worked his way through the field. The announcers, recognizing his popularity, gave frequent updates on his position. “Race fans, Tony Kanaan is up to 12th place!” Cheers from all. When Kanaan jumped up to second, everyone jumped to their feet and tried to will him to catch Franchitti.

The big down-side to being at a race is you don’t get all the information that viewers at home get. While there are announcers over the PA, you can’t always hear them. So, after a final yellow with 20 laps to go, it was hard to know exactly what was going on. Franchitti had fallen to fifth, but two drivers in front of him still needed to pit. Helio Castroneves was in the mix, but he was right on the edge of needing to pit before the checkered flag. And Kanaan was lurking.

Franchitti suddenly looked slow. Was he conserving fuel, or had he lost whatever magic was in his car?

So we get to the final ten laps and it’s looking like a shootout to the finish. Helio takes the lead. But with eight laps to go he shoots into the pits for a splash of fuel. People in the stands look at each other in confusion. Three laps later, Kanaan does the same thing. There’s dismay in the crowd. What the hell is he doing?

From what we can hear over the PA, Franchitti may have just enough fuel to finish, but it’s going to be very close. Were Helio and Tony gambling that Dario wouldn’t make it to the finish and hope they can work their way through traffic back to the front? I guess.

The white flag comes out and Dario is going even slower. Is he on empty? Where are Helio and Tony? Can they pass him? Suddenly, a big gasp goes up in the crowd. The video boards show a massive wreck in turn three. A car is airborne, crashes into the fence, and disintegrates while sitting on top of another. The yellow comes out. Who is in the lead?

The video boards show Dario cruising along the interior lane on the back stretch. If he can muster another half lap out of his car, he’s the winner, as positions are locked because of the yellow. He makes it, with fuel to spare, and wins his second Indy 500 under caution. Dario may not be as popular as Kanaan, but he is well-liked in Indy, and now we had the added bonus of getting to see Ashley Judd celebrate! Helio finished ninth, Tony 11th. Danica Patrick, who had a rough month and was booed by the crowd both after qualifying and in Sunday’s introductions, took sixth.

Then came the mad dash to the parking lots. People arrive in waves, but after the race, most try like hell to get out fast. The streets are mobbed with people, some of whom have been drinking since early in the morning. I had a cute girl who maybe weighed 100 pounds slam into me and not even notice. She just kept walking forward, trying to stay upright.

We got to our car quickly, merged into traffic, and were back on the interstate moments later. We left our seats at about 4:20. We were home an hour later. If you park in the right spot and hustle out of the Speedway, you can make very good time.4

So my first visit to the Indianapolis 500 was a success. No sunburn, decent commute, fun race. My only real disappointment was that we only saw part of one wreck. It’s not that I had a morose desire to see drivers get maimed. I just wanted to see how a crash when you are mere feet away compares to seeing one on television. We saw a car that had run into the wall coming out of turn four bounce across and hit the wall that separates the main raceway from the pits. Nothing very spectacular.

Anyway, I can mark that off the old Indiana sports to do list. Now to get to a Butler game…

  1. He went several years in the early 80s and has always been a fan of the race and its history. 
  2. Allegedly. The IMS does not release official attendance statistics for races they host. So it was an estimated crowd. There were lots of empty seats, though, so while the crowd was massive, it still is a far cry from the race’s glory days. 
  3. During the race we learned it was the hottest Indy 500 ever, with the air temperature reaching 96 and the track temperature going over 130. Thank goodness we weren’t in the sun the entire time. 
  4. On a normal day, it’s a 20-30 minute drive from our house to the Speedway. 


They’ve got me.

Every online retailer I’ve ever purchased a good or service from has me in their clutches. There is no escape.

Each morning when I first check my e-mail, chances are there are at least three, and often as many as six, messages from various retailers offering up fantastic discounts on things I might like. The Gap. Banana Republic. Old Navy. Eddie Bauer. Borders. Amazon. The KU Bookstore.

And as much as I insist I have plenty of clothes or books or whatever, I always click on the message to see just how good the deals are. More often than not, I’ll find a sale that seems too good to miss. That’s how I end up with 800 t-shirts for summer; how can I pass when they are only $10 with free shipping!?!?!

I’m torn. Am I part of the problem with this country, a nation of compulsive consumers who buy way more than we need or can use? Or am I doing my part, spreading money around, and keeping the economy humming?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but at least I’ll look good while Iā€™m trying to figure that out.


Anyone Need Two?

So, not the greatest sports year at my noble alma mater.

A series of fights between the football and basketball teams. A football coach forced out because of abusive behavior. A football team that fell apart, lost seven-straight, and pissed a chance at a division title away. A basketball player, who was already in the doghouse, decided to shoot his mouth off during the season. A stunning early loss in the NCAA tournament. And now this ticket scalping garbage to close out the year.

I’m ready for the 2010-11 college sports year to start.

As I’ve followed the news on the emerging ticket scandal. reactions have been predictably split: KU fans think it’s an embarrassment and something that should be taken seriously, but not an incident that should trigger any kind of NCAA attention. The non-KU fans, on the other hand, think it is several magnitudes larger than simply an embarrassment or oversight, and just the tip of the iceberg that will end in every basketball player that’s arrived on campus in the past decade being declared ineligible, all wins erased, the 2008 title being vacated, and the entire athletic program shuttered for a couple years then forced to beg its way into the Missouri Valley.

Have I summed both sides arguments up well?

In all the reports I’ve read, at this point there’s no evidence that this is anything more than a monumental clusterfuck in the offices of the athletic department, unrelated to coaches, players, or recruiting. For all of Lew Perkins’ qualities, it appears he’s guilty of trusting the wrong people and not bothering to check their work. I know a few people who know a few people and several of them were amazed that any trust was placed in one particular person who is in the midst of the scandal. No one I know who dealt with that person has a good thing to say about him. Perhaps Perkins dismissed the complaints about how that employee performed his job thinking it was just more bitching about the changes in ticket allocation. Whatever his excuse, Lew failed big time.

I think it’s doubtful Lew loses his job over this. Especially with the conference realignment rumors that are blowing around. Despite his failings, most consider Lew the ideal person to lead KU through this process. While the athletic department did ok with Dru Jennings running the show in the interim between Al Bohl and Perkins, I don’t think this is a moment when you want either a new or temporary head of the department. Now what happens after that is another story. It would not surprise me to see Lew retire as soon as KU’s conference fate is confirmed.

Of course, there is potentially more to this. Late in both articles that Yahoo! has published so far, Jason King mentions there are a number of players who came through the Pump brothers’ summer teams that ended up at KU. While there is no connecting of dots, the implication is that perhaps the Pumps were funneling players to KU because of the money they were making off of scalped KU tickets.

While we can’t dismiss that possibility completely, it doesn’t seem likely. Pump alums ended up at KU under different coaching staffs and athletic administrations. That kind of stuff tends to stick to one coaching staff or another, and not survive a change in oversight from the top of the AD. There are a number of Pump players who were heavily recruited by KU yet ended up at other schools. Also, if the relationship was as quid pro quo as some would suggest, word would have got out long ago that the Pumps were acting as KU’s West Coast World Wide Wes. “Of course another Pump player signed with KU…” would be the refrain each fall when another kid with ties to them put his name to an LOI for KU. You won’t find a lot of nice things said about the Pump brothers, but you also won’t find those murmurs about their relationship with the KU program that are always around when something is going on.

There’s no doubting that the relationship between the Pump brothers and the KU program is a little more cozy than I’m comfortable with. But based on what we know now, there’s no evidence that there was an effort to push players to KU because of the ticket situation.

What does worry me, though, is that Yahoo! is involved. The reference to recruits in the stories they’ve published so far is ominous. They’re far more likely to stick with the story than the NCAA would be. Several of the reporters involved in the investigation were part of the look at USC football, in which Yahoo! basically shamed the NCAA into investigating that program. While the NCAA generally only gets involved if they are made aware of specific recruiting violations, a news enterprise like Yahoo! has plenty of time and money to spend on digging to see if there’s any more dirt in Lawrence.

If I’m not too worried about the Pump brothers connection, why am I worried about Yahoo!? Because every program, no matter how clean or dirty, has skeletons. Whether it’s flat-out paying players, falsifying grades, setting players up with “summer jobs” that require little work in return for embellished pay, defrauding student loan agencies, or just $100 handshakes from alums and athletes having their bar tabs waved off, stuff happens at every school. Yahoo! may not dig up a true scandal, but if they can put together enough of those $100 handshakes, spurious summer jobs, and credit accounts at local clothes shops and then connect those to someone who contributes to the athletic program, they’ve got themselves a nice story. And then maybe the NCAA does decide to take interest.

I’m hopeful that my faith in Bill Self is well-placed. For the record, I don’t think he is squeaky clean. He’s not afraid to go right to the edge of where the rules are, or wade into the numerous gray areas of recruiting.1 But I think he’s smart enough to know he doesn’t need to get truly dirty to win at KU. I hope that has been well communicated to his assistants.

Honestly, though, nothing would surprise me anymore. It’s been a long, hard year for Jayhawks. I just hope that it doesn’t get even worse.

  1. See the Ronnie Chalmers situation, for example. 


The school year is almost over, but it’s never too late for the teachers to ban items from the classroom.

M.’s class has been overrun by the scourge of our times: Silly Bandz. For the non-parents, or parents of younger kids, Silly Bandz are basically colored rubber bands that have been molded to the shape of kid friendly objects: pets, dinosaurs, zoo animals, etc. Kids wear them as bracelets and trade them with friends and classmates. It’s one of those dead simple inventions that has someone sitting on an island, sipping fruity drinks, and figuring out how to move their business off-shore to avoid taxes. It’s not unusual to see kids walk into class with their arms completely covered with Silly Bandz. M. and C. have both come home with them from birthday parties, or from friends who were willing to share some of their own.1 They hit the mother load over the weekend when they each got a package for C.’s birthday.

Anyway, we limited the girls to wearing one for each year of age to school; M. can wear five, C. four. There was complaining, but for the most part they’ve gone along with that rule. On Wednesday, though, M. came home and said her teacher told the class Silly Bandz would not be allowed in class anymore. As M. told it, Mrs. B. was tired of having to compete with Silly Bandz for her students’ attentions. I understand her frustration, but I also laugh at the image of her trying to lead the class in a lesson and looking up to see 12 kindergarteners arguing over who gets the green Stegosaurus and who gets the blue star. It’s a laugh of sympathy and understanding.

So kudos to Mrs. B. for saying “Enough!” I bet that by the end of the summer, when the Silly Bandz have run their course, we’ll be picking them out of couch cushions, from behind beds and dressers, etc. and tossing them into the trash without a word of protest from the girls.

  1. I have a suspicion that the girls did not come across all their Silly Bandz honestly. Anytime a Silly Bandz hits the floor, I imagine there’s a mad scramble to claim it. 

Baby Steps

I’m pleased to report that M. has improved her soccer game over the past few weeks. She’s still no Mia Hamm, but at least she’s doing some positive things during games. Tuesday night she even had an important milestone.

Last weekend she mastered the concept of getting back on defense. Unlike her earlier attempts, she was racing back towards her own goal each time the opponent took possession, then trying to at least get in the way as the ball approached the net.

For awhile.

She got kind of obsessed with the running back part and at the first hint of a change in possession, she would turn and run back towards the goal, not bothering to watch where the ball was. Then she quit making an effort to get the ball, watching it trickle by her when she could have easily cleared the ball away. By the end of the game she was just standing in the goal box, even when the other five players were at the other end of the field. If L. hadn’t fallen asleep on me, I might have yelled at her to get her ass downfield.1

After the game, I offered constructive criticism. I reminded her she can look over her shoulder while she’s running to see where the ball is. No need running all the way back if the ball is going the other way, right? And I reminded her that when she stays in front of the goal when her team is trying to score in the other one, she’s not being a good teammate and helping the other kids score.

That seemed to register.

Before Tuesday’s game, I stressed keeping an eye on the ball, staying close to the action, and clearing the ball towards the sideline on defense. She said she was going to try to score a goal. I said that was great, but let’s focus on what she does best.

So the game starts and as usual, it takes her awhile to get involved. She’s jumping in on defense at times, but also standing around looking clueless while the ball bounces right by her at other times. I yelled out to her to follow the ball, and she worked to get back in the action. If she faded away from the action when her team had the ball, I told her to at least run towards the goal in hopes the ball might come her way. A couple times she got the ball near midfield with a clear path towards the goal, but she would either knock it forward and then stand there, or whiff and watch as another player took it away.

Finally, suddenly, she found herself on the goal-side of a scrum and the ball popped right between her and the goal. She was less than ten feet from the goal mouth, and no one was in her way. One good strike and the ball is in the net. She’s going to score her first goal!

She either choked or got confused, because rather than kick the ball into the open goal, she calmly rotated her body 45 degrees and kicked the ball towards the sideline. I was on my toes, ready to cheer and high-five her. Instead I stood there with my jaw open, wondering what the hell she had just done.

She made it up moments later, though. She got back on defense and cut off the fastest kid on the other team, engaging and kicking the ball away before he could knock it into the goal. It was a heady, smart, and even aggressive play. I reminded myself that she’s always seemed better on defense and perhaps this was the start of something special.

Then, after a water break, she again decided to kick the ball to the sideline instead of into the open goal.

Sheesh, I guess I over-stressed the defensive coaching.

The games continued, her team getting the better of the action. If she could just put herself in position, this seemed like the night to get a goal. A couple times she was just feet away from getting a chance to knock the ball in, but each time was a step or two too slow.

Finally, she took the ball on the end line about five feet from the goal. She kicked it towards the goal and it bounced softly towards the post. A teammate came in and kicked at it, knocking it off the post, back to M.. She kicked again, and it slowly trickled across the goal line. Both she and the teammate went after it and kicked at the same time. Two feet hit the ball, and the ball hit the back of the net. Her first goal! Well, kind of. It’s half a goal, I guess, since we have no replay to review.

She gave me a shy grin, knowing she couldn’t really take credit for the goal but aware that she had played a role in the score.

Moments later, as the badass girl on her team raced toward the goal, M. screamed at her, “Give it to me! Give it to me!” She should know better than to think that girl would give up possession, but I like the way she was thinking.

All-in-all, she’s much better than she was a month ago. She still drifts and stares at the wrong field or talks to teammates while the ball whizzes past. But at least I’m not embarrassed to be her parent. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?

I kid! She’s happy and having fun and getting better. That’s what matters. Honest.

  1. Not in so many words, of course. 


A few blog minor blog updates.

At times (OK, quite often) I like to imagine that I have a huge number of regular readers. Dozens, hundreds perhaps. I like to fantasize that they check in regularly not just to get updates on the wacky things the girls are doing, but to see what else I’m reading and writing about. Thus, I like to believe that any time I make minor tweaks to the blog, lots of people all around the world are noticing and wondering about the meanings behind the changes. So, as usual, I ask you to indulge me in my Internet fantasies as I explain some adjustments I’ve made over the past couple weeks.

First, I’ve added a new section called Hotspots that can be accessed from the top of each page. It is a listing of some of the websites I read on a daily basis, if you want to see firsthand how I waste much of my time.

Second, as you may have noticed, the fonts I’m using have changed. I’m trying out a service called TypeKit that is dedicated to helping websites break out of the small number of fonts that blog templates offer up. As I understand it, most modern browsers will go out and automatically download any fonts they encounter that they have not already cached away. So most of you should have noticed the change, although there may be some Internet Explorer stragglers out there. I’ll probably continue to try different fonts for the next few weeks until I find one I dig the most. As of this writing, I’m using Museo Sans.

Finally, astute readers no doubt picked up on my adjusting how I do footnotes. Traditionally, I had used what I’ll call the Posnanski style of footnotes.*

(That’s what Joe Posnanski does on his site. He throws an asterisk in the body of his post when he wants to add a lengthy, parenthetical thought, and then using a second asterisk and italics, offers up that thought.)

That system generally works well. I like being able to put the parenthetical thought close to the original reference. But, in some ways, it is also cumbersome, forcing you to read through or jump past it to continue with the main body.

I found a cool little way of creating true footnotes that I’ve been using for the past couple weeks. It’s pretty slick. I throw in a standard footnote number, like this.1 Go ahead, click on it.

See, easy.

I don’t know if that’s better or worse, easier to read or more cumbersome, but it looks more official, so I’ll stick with it for the time being.

Three things that don’t really matter, other than to me and one or two readers, but I thought I would share anyway.

  1. Clicking on the footnote number will jump your browser down to the footnote body. Read it and when done, click on the up arrow and you will be teleported back to where you were in the main section. 

12 – X = ?

I’ve refrained from writing about the whole Big 10 expansion / Big 12 dissolution thing until something actually happens. But with all the rumors this week, I figured it was time to tack a crack.

1200 words later, I wasn’t making a logical argument and hadn’t come close to completing my thoughts.

So how about this: it will suck if Missouri and Nebraska go to the Big 10. I have no great love for the Big 12, since it’s always seemed more concerned with keeping Texas happy, but I do have love for all the Big 8 schools. No matter what happens with games at Arrowhead and the Sprint Center, the KU-MU rivalry will never be the same if the schools are playing in different conferences.

That said I don’t blame anyone for running away from a conference that has been dysfunctional and two steps slow for its entire history. While other conferences, most notably the Big 10, came up with innovative ideas for creating and sharing revenue, the Big 12 has continually gotten worked over when it comes to TV contracts for its football games. Rightly or wrongly, I think every school outside of Texas feels as though their interests don’t weigh as heavily in the league offices as those of Texas and Texas A&M.

If this does happen, I expect the remaining Big 12 schools will work some kind of deal with either BYU and Utah, or more likely the Pac-10 to keep everyone else in the fold. But it won’t be the same.

Remember, I did predict awhile back that eventually we’ll have one big conference with regional divisions. So perhaps this is just the first step in the consolidation and, in ten years, the old Big 8 schools will be together in a division again.

Still, I’m hoping Notre Dame decides to join the Big 10 and they stop at 12 schools.



Famous Sports Achievements

One of my (many) sisters-in-law completed her first half-marathon last weekend, running the Indianapolis Mini Marathon in atrocious conditions. Her accomplishment got me reminiscing about my own running milestones over the years. Completing the Chicago Marathon in 2001, a half-marathon in 2000, and my first triathlon in 1999. But my favorite was much further back than that.

In the spring of my first-grade year, my parents separated for the first time. This happened a couple more times and by the time they divorced two years later, I was an old pro at handling parental break ups. But I’ll admit I was a bit messed up in the spring of 1978, mostly because my mom and I abruptly moved and I had to start in a new school in April.

It was a struggle to fit in, especially when I didn’t really understand what was going on with my parents. All the kids knew each other and had forged friendships over the course of the year. I was the new kid at an age when no one is really sure what to do with the new kid.

Fortunately it was spring, though, and that meant gym class was outside and involved running around, playing kickball, etc. The other kids in my class spoke reverently of a kid in my class named Kyle and his super-human speed. They talked about how he ran away from everyone last fall during football games, how he beat everyone in races, and so on. I figured they know the deal, so I too learned to be in awe of Kyle.1

When early May rolled around, our gym teacher lined us up and explained that the school’s field day was coming up, and we would spend the next few weeks practicing for the big day and picking class representatives for the races. 2 I wasn’t really sure what he was talking about, but it sounded fun. I liked competitions, and the lucky winners in our class races would get to compete against the winners from the other first grade classes on the high school football field in front of the entire elementary school.

So we lined up for our first 50 yard dash practice. I remember the day clearly. It was morning, so the grass was still heavy with dew, the sun shining brightly in our eyes as it crested the trees across the field. Kyle was located just a couple lanes to my left. I figured if I kept him in my sights, I’d have a solid shot of making the first grade finals. The teacher put us on our marks, raised his arm, and shouted “Go!” I took off, pumping my arms, raising my knees high, all the stuff that OJ Simpson did when he ran the ball. I focused on the finish line but also monitored my left peripheral vision, waiting for Kyle to appear. I could feel my blood pumping in my ear drums, my throat burned, and I gasped for breaths. I crossed the finish line and pulled to a stop, looking anxiously to the teacher to see where I finished. Turns out, I won.

“This must be a mistake,” I thought.

I found Kyle and asked if he slipped in the wet grass at the start.

“No,” he replied, he ran fine. I just beat him.

I could sense a murmur amongst our classmates. The new kid had just beat Kyle in a race. Was it a fluke? Had the world as they knew it just been shattered into a million pieces?

Over the next couple weeks we continued our practice for Field Day. Kyle won a few races. Most days, though, I beat him. It was obvious we would be the two runners representing Mrs. Alexander’s class.

When the big day rolled around, we filed into the football stadium and sat in the concrete stands, nervously watching the other races as we waited our turn to take the field. When they called for the first grade 50 yard dashers, Kyle and I made our way to the field, our classmates wishing us luck along the way.

We lined up on the field, and as I looked down to the finish line, 50 yards sure seemed a lot longer than it had been in gym class. We took our marks, a teacher raised a real starter pistol, and shot a round to send us on our way.

This was a fairly small school, I think there were four first grade classes, but I had no scouting report on the other classes. I didn’t know if Kyle had been the class of the entire school before my arrival, or if perhaps another class featured a budding Olympian. Fortunately, when you’re not-yet seven, you don’t think of these things. I just knew Kyle was fast, I had beat him a few times, and one of us would win this race. Still, there were a lot of strangers on the field with me.

I ran hard. I pumped my fists and raised my knees high. I felt my blood in my ear drums, felt the burn in my throat, and gasped for breaths. I crossed the finish line and looked around. Had I won? Or did I finish last? I had no idea until the teacher holding the blue ribbon ran over and grabbed me so they could line people up for awards. I finished first, Kyle right behind me. Mrs. Alexander had a future track team in her class!

I’m pretty sure that was the first time I ever won anything official. I remember how sweet the rest of that day was, walking around at the post-race picnic with my blue ribbon pinned to my shirt.3 My speed held until high school, when there were far better sprinters around. I could usually win the mile warm-up runs in gym class, but I dumbly thought that cross country and distance racing in track were for freaks, and never tried out for either one.

Now accomplishment is more about getting off the couch and doing something than being the first one across the finish line. The prize is the t-shirt or finisher’s medal that everyone receives. While those are nice, that blue ribbon in May of 1978 will never be topped.

  1. I will say this, Kyle was a nice kid. He didn’t let all this adulation go to his young head. He and I became fast friends over the next few years before my family moved to Kansas City. 
  2. Remember, this was the 70s. There was no “everybody wins” mentality yet. It was a cold, brutal, efficient contest to determine a winner. 
  3. I’m pretty sure I ran around a little too much after lunch and deposited most of my meal in the grass somewhere. 

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