Track MeetsSAVE SOMETHING FOR THE END!
OK, so if your name was not Kilpatrick, Harris, Bagwell, or Green; then you were probably like me: Swimming meets were a lesson in survival. If you got across the lake three times without losing your life or your bathing suit, then it was a successful swimming meet. Swimming meets were about survivalâ€¦
But Track Meets were where I learned to compete! Those were on Saturdays, also; alternating Saturdays, and since we were at camp for at least four weeks, you had two of each. As in the Swim Meets there were three events in the Track Meets. When you were a baby, you had the softball throw. Your next step up was long jump (except we called it â€˜broadâ€™ jump; I donâ€™t know why, we didnâ€™t see the girls until that nightâ€¦ thatâ€™s another story). When you got really big, you had either high jump or shot put, with a real shot put; well, until Robin somebody threw it in the lake and then we used a big rock.
If you remember, the pits were sawdust. They only added new sawdust after grass completely covered the old and so those pits could get pretty hard (like a dry dirt road)â€¦ which was okay for the â€˜broadâ€™ jump but it made the high jump a bit of a problem. I think that is why most everybody used the â€˜scissorsâ€™ technique instead of the â€˜western rollâ€™. You could tell the â€˜rollersâ€™ because they had sawdust stuck to their backs (most of them were having difficulty breathing, also!). The â€˜Fosburyâ€™ flop had not yet been invented; good think for Y Campers, since there were no Orthopedic Surgeons outside of Atlanta. You got two tries, except in the high jump were you kept going until you missed twice or broke a bone in the pit. For the â€˜broadâ€™ jump they drew a line on the ground for a toe board. For the high jump two leaders held a bamboo pole (later we got standards, but somebody broke the only bar we hadâ€¦ so back to bamboo). The shot put circle was limeâ€¦ a definitely penalty if you scratched. Anyway the field events were just preamble to the real track meet: Dash and Cross Country.
The way it worked was that all the units lined up at the end of the Athletic Field and each dash was longer, depending on the age. I remember the old field (65 yards), and the leaders had to join hands at the end to keep the Cabin Assistants (LITâ€™s) from knocking the softball fence downâ€¦ like a Red Rover game, but serious; some of the CAâ€™s were big! Coach Mike was the starter and he would line us up, about ten times. Weâ€™d all be jammed in the middle; dumb, since the finish judges were on the sides of the field. Heâ€™d finally get us spread out and then heâ€™d say, â€˜Gentlemen (and weâ€™d look around to see to whom he was talking); let me give you some advice. Focus on a point down there (and heâ€™d point to the other end of the field), and run to it; do not look around.â€™ Then heâ€™d start us about three times after all the false starts. And away we would go. The first time I ran, I looked to the right to see how I was doing; then to the left; and when I did, I ran that way. I came in fourth and ran about twice as far as the â€˜gentlemanâ€™ who came in third. Then I learned to keep my eyes on the prize. I won lots of candy bars, but never came in first. I got candy because the first three places got candy.
But that was all the easy stuff; then came the real gut check, when you finally got to understand your man-hood and learn about competition: The Cross Country Run. This is when we all put our shoes on, because the road was full of rocks and the road was the straight path. Somewhere down that road was a leader you had to run around and then come back. It was an out and back with Coach Mike looming at the finish. Heâ€™d say, â€˜Men (now it was menâ€¦ there was nothing gentle left); only three of you can win, but all of you can compete. On your way back, do your best to pass the man in front of you, and never ever quit. And we would line up, trying to figure how forty of us were going to fit through that gate to the road. And Coach Mike would offer this final advice: â€˜Men, donâ€™t use yourself up on the beginning of the race; save a little for the end.â€™
Each year the race became longer, the longer you came back to camp. Younger Boys ran to the WT Shack; Cubs to the Gym; Preps to the Lodge steps; Juniors to the Tower; Seniors to the OD Shack; LITâ€™s to the cook shack (first timeâ€¦ next time to the gate!) I remember when I turned thirteen, knowing I would be an LIT; I thought about the Cross Country Race all of May before camp. By the time the first Track Meet came, I already knew who would win. It would be either Trav Paine or Louis Sanders (both studs and both fourteen years oldâ€¦ big difference between thirteen and fourteen). I was pretty sure Donnie Gillespie would come in third (he was thirteen but with ungodly and unfair speed). For the first time since Younger Boy, I knew I would be out of the money.
So, hating to lose more than anything, I decided that I would just cruise. I was not about to give it all I had and face the fact that my best was not good enough. At least, I thought, if I lose this way, Iâ€™ll know I didnâ€™t really try. Well Coach Mike (for you) was at the end; but he was Coach Dad to me! I couldnâ€™t finish too far back, so I decided that about 1/3 of the way back was OK; there were 50 of us, so top twenty would get me by. I remember as I cruised back by the tower, one of my former leaders fell into a run beside me. To everybody else, it looked as if he were encouraging me; what he said was, â€˜I know you are better than this; you are loafing and not giving your best; I am ashamed of you.â€™ It was Tommy Harrold, now a fourth year leader and quarterback of my high school football team. It was â€˜nuff said.
I kicked into gear and busted a gut; I about died that day, and still I didnâ€™t get a candy bar; there was Trav and Louis and yes, Gillespie about ten yards ahead, but I came in fourth. I was pretty proud, but still disappointed. All I won was â€˜psychic ecstasyâ€™â€¦ something Coach Mike invented sometime along the way to show that you could lose and still â€˜sortaâ€™ win. I wasnâ€™t happy, but at least I could look Coach Mike and Tom in the eye at lunch that day. By the way I kept trying and finally came in third the last track meet. Gillespie was sick in the infirmary that day!
Every morning I still drag my sixty years old behind out and run a couple of miles (except Saturdays when I take a break in honor of Y Camp Track Meets). I run with my dog Fidget (she is sixty three in dog years). I say run; I shouldnâ€™t even say jog; itâ€™s more like a fast shuffle. Something hurts every day; I never know what part of my anatomy it will be; just know somewhere will hurt. But I do it, because of those Cross Countryâ€™s at Y Camp. I would never have known what it was to compete with out all the stuff we did at Y Camp, including but not reserved to Track Meets. We still compete and for some kids itâ€™s the only place they get to compete, since now we give them a trophy for just showing upâ€¦ self esteem, you know. Well, I happen to know you can derive quite a lot of self esteem from getting your butt kicked; as long as you give it all you got and save just a little bit for the end!