Last night I wrote and posted this item on NCPrepTrack's "Misc. News" page. It led me to start thinking, "Why did I start
NCPrepTrack and why do I still enjoy doing it?".|
This morning as I sit at home on a November Saturday with my laptop, I'd much rather be somewhere else ...in Kernersville for today's 57th NCHSAA Cross Country Championships. But due to a clumsy fall at home a few weeks ago, I'm currently using crutches and have a cast on my lower leg helping fractures in both my right tibia & fibula (just above the ankle) to heal. No driving until the doc ok's it. This is the first State meet at Beeson Park that I've missed. I'd much rather be there, enjoying quality competition among the teams over that great course, and meeting both high school coaches and the many college coaches there and catching up with the latest, and all. ...But I'm already looking forward to the next State Meet approx. 365 days from now!
I created, and maintain NCPrepTrack because as a former runner, coach, meet official, fan, and enthusiast of high school track & field and cross country, I understand how much these two sports can mean to our teenagers of today, and the learning experiences that they can offer. Even though I've worked 20+ years as a computer programmer, my B.S. and M.S. are in Physical Education and Sports Science (Appalachian '75 & Oregon '77). So I'm an educator. I'm 3rd-generation in a family of teachers. I value and support public education.
I agree that lessons can be learned in classrooms where talented and experienced teachers can set up motivating and stimulating learning experiences for our students. But I also maintain that lessons have, and will continue to be learned also in hot, stuffy wrestling rooms, on practice courts & fields, on frigid, windswept tracks and on long, hot, steamy trails around fields and through woods and forests.
Gyms, stadiums and practice fields cost taxpayer dollars. But funding a community's facilities and supporting extracurricular activities for our youth is a wise investment. I have seen with my own eyes kids "get" lessons (I've seen their eyes light up), ..lessons they've learned during a hard practice, or a tough competition where they've just excelled. They can sit in classrooms and listen to such lessons but when they're out there actually experiencing it, they suddenly "get it". And this happens not just in sports, but activities like the marching band too.
Never underestimate the value of high school sports and extracuricular activities in stimulating and motivating teenagers to stay in school, to discover things that they are good at, areas where they can excel -- as opposed to dropping out and going to work, or joining a gang, or hanging out with friends after school and getting high or getting in trouble. High school sports provide opportunities for kids to be a part of a group. To work together as a team. To support, and encourage each other. To be accepted and recognized as one who is willing to do what it takes to do their part, to do their role, and to help to make the team successful and to reach greater heights. To be respected. To belong.
Maintaining NCPrepTrack gives me a way to help support high school sports in North Carolina. I recall sitting in the coaches' office at Independence HS back in the 80s and looking at back issues of Mat News -- A weekly newsletter with results & news on high school wrestling in NC -- mimeographed, stapeled together, folded, postage attached and mailed to subscribers in the days before the Internet -- by Bob Mauldin in Kannapolis. I thought, "Somebody needs to do a weekly newsletter like this for track & field; and one for cross country." Being a teacher and coach at the time, I couldn't find the time.
Another idea I had was to compile a list of past champions, team and individual in all events, all-classifications along with records, and publish it in a booklet, maybe 5x8-inches and convienent for coaches to carry in their bags so they could look up things like, "What exactly is the NCHSAA 2-A girls record in the 4x200m?" while at meets. One day, in 1997 it occurred to me that I had finally written "that book" -- and published it online, and was sharing it with everyone free. At first, NCPrepTrack focused on history and stats. Brett Honeycutt encouraged me to start posting results. Our schools' fax machines were still the primary way that coaches shared meet results among each other back then. NCPrepTrack set up a fax number and we would receive results and manually type them up and post them.
Brett and I were still single guys back then and we enjoyed going to big Saturday meets, shooting dozens of photos, returning home and selecting, cropping, composing accurate captions identifying every athlete, and posting them along with results (which we may or may not have to type up!) on NCPrepTrack. It turned out to be one of the best part-time hobbies I've ever had.
Eventually, the website developed into a little monster. I was married, seldom traveled to meets, and essentially maintained the site all by myself. With NC's explosion in population, more and more new schools opening, more conferences, more meets to cover, it became too overwhelming. At that point I stopped posting results (except for state meets & a few other majors) and evolved NCPrepTrack into what it currently is. Jeff George's NCrunners.com is part of the national MileSplit Network and he has tools and resources to do things that NCPrepTrack currently is simply not set up to do. Jeff's site and mine complement each other and I feel that together we do a pretty good job of covering high school track and cross country in North Carolina.
I appreciate the volunteers who help me with certain features I have on NCPrepTrack. Guys like David Culp, Roger Collins, Zack Osborne, and Brett contribute by updating several of the all-time lists (e.g., McAlpine, Wake-Med, etc.). And I welcome emails from folks pointing it out when I update one of the All-Time Track lists but overlook another student/athlete who achieved a deserving performance. I appreciate being informed of mistakes and items I've missed. Somehow, I was still honored by the NCHSAA at their annual awards day in 2010 with the "Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year Award" ... the first maintainer of a website covering NC high school sports to win the award. (It traditionally goes to a newspaper sportswriter or guy at a small-town radio station who does the Friday-night games and faithfully covers sports at the local school.)
One of my favorite sayings is: "Never underestimate the meaning to a kid of seeing his/her name in print." Achievements deserve to be recognized.
Back to the importance of supporting high school sports...
While coaching, I believed in a "no cuts" program. Every kid was welcome to be a part of the team ...the program, even those who never made the traveling squad (either Varsity or JV) to major Saturday invitational meets. I scheduled numerous "regular season" dual, triangular and quad meets (2, 3 or 4 schools) to give them opportunities to excel. Managing the boys and girls' cross country programs by myself with no assistant coaches, I found it a logistical challenge, organizing practices where I had each kid assigned to a group for that day and attempting an appropriate-level workout.
Each November, the Athletic Director organized and managed a Fall-Sports Banquet (which included Football, Soccer, and all). I also organized our own cross country banquet, a potluck dinner, where I could recognize every kid ..including the managers and team statisticians. One highlight was the annual humor/goofy awards which I would present to certain kids.
One guy I used to fondly call "Buckets". Buckets ran with a long stride and a low hand/arm carry. I told him he looked like he was running with a couple of buckets full of sand. I worked with him for 3 years, trying to get him to run with his arms higher (while knowing that the 1960 & 1964 Olympic 1500m champion ran with a similar low-arm style). Buckets ended up as a Senior being in the top-7 and contributing to a team that placed 8th in the NCHSAA State Cross Country Meet (all-classification back then). At our cross country banquet I presented him with a couple of little plastic, toy buckets. The following spring, although having modest speed, Buckets narrowly missed qualifying for the State Meet in the 800m ...which was the final 8 back then -- not 16 as today. But he enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that he had worked hard, improved and achieved goals and accomplishments, and had run well and done a good job. And he sure cherished those little toy buckets.
In closing I'll share a story from March (April?) of 1968. I was a skinny, pale, shy, nerdy Sophomore with acne -- and something of a misfit -- at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, on a track team that competed at a quad meet at Parkland High. (Forsyth County's senior highs were grades 10-12 at the time.) I can't recall how I ran that day (I may have won the Mile), but I do remember the team score. The meet had ended, we were on the activity bus with the driver waiting for the coach to board. Coach hopped on with his clipboard, shared a few words and announced the final team score. I can't recall the other schools besides Parkland, but Reynolds had won, 98 points with the other teams scoring 48, 47, and 17. A resounding cheer went up as the doors closed and the bus pulled out of the parking lot.
I can't recall who -- maybe shot & discus guy Mike Stafford, maybe hurdler John Jones (yep, long time coach at Spring Valley, SC [More]) -- but one of them I think started the chant. "98, 48, 47, 17!". "98, 48, 47, 17!". Within seconds 30 or so guys had all joined in the loud chant. Over and over, endlessly the chant continued for the 10 minutes or so as we rode back to Reynolds. "...98, 48, 47, 17! ...98, .."
As the bus approached the final turn at Wiley Jr. High, a block or so from the Reynolds gym, everyone (except the driver) stood up and began singing the R.J. Reynolds High School alma mater, which concluded with a reverberating, loud and climatic drumming of 60-some palms on the bus ceiling. The doors opened and we joyfully and happily filed off the activity bus. I had found my place.