When I first sat down with my head track coaches from Montgomery and Rincon Valley Christian for our pre-season meeting and they broached the idea of combining practice, I was largely skeptical.
How would this work? Was it even legal? Could I keep track of both sets of athletes? Would I be able to remember all of their names? Would I still be able to help them achieve their goals? How was I possibly going to catch all of their splits when they ran together at invitationals?
Just the little things.
We don’t compete in the same league or in the same division. One school is public, the other private. One school is a little over 200 students, the other is just under 2,000.
The most distinguishing feature? One school has a track and the other doesn’t.
In February, we began combined practices. The kids didn’t know each other and I don’t think they were certain how they felt about the whole thing. I was acclimating to my new job as the assistant coach at Montgomery. On top of it, every day and every meet seemed wetter than the last.
At Big Cat, the wind blew a soccer goal post over and hit an athlete in the head. Some of my athletes ran their first 3200m race while the sky dumped unlimited bucketfuls of the rain everyone had been praying for.
“But it doesn’t rain in California,” complained one of my athletes during the Windsor Relays as both teams were huddling under our makeshift camp of three or four EZ-UPs vigorously strapped to the bleachers as if the apocalypse was coming. The wind howled, pole vault got canceled, but the heats went on.
When the meet got called off mid-way through the 100m after the timing tent blew over, everyone descended onto camp overjoyed. They began hi-fiving each other and delightedly gorging on the cookies I had made them promise not to eat until their races were over.
After a couple more meets of suffering together in the rain, the atmosphere at practice seemed to shift and the kids began to look forward to working out together. When practice was separate for a couple of days in March due to different meet schedules, they’d come up to me and ask why their friends from the other team weren’t there. Each invitational, the kids would warm up with each other before their events.
They’ve also teamed up to mess around, taking turns hijacking my phone and my Garmin (which is currently set to military time and commands in Italian after the latest venture). It’s also still unclear who had the best proposal for getting out of a workout (my favorites include three months of “professional chauffeuring” and sheer bribery in amounts ranging from $20 to $100) and who had the most honest food diary entry (entries included a “lame sandwich” and “burritos that weren’t as good as last night”). They have debates about who the greatest underrated distance runner of all time is (the conclusion was Rocky).
During meets, cheering emanates from our camp for athletes from both teams and each athlete’s success is celebrated with equal admiration regardless of uniform color. Intermixed prom couples are starting to pop-up. Friendly rivalries have formed. The kids are already looking forward to long trail runs in Annadel together during the summer.
The Viking Track Classic last week marked the last meet the kids would have competed against each other during the regular season. There’s a few things left unsettled though, and Friday they’ll all take the track for what we’ve affectionately dubbed the Red vs. Blue meet. Rumor has it the whole coaching staff from both schools will participate.
Post-season around the corner, the distance squads from both teams are asking me for a pool party together. All I can think of is that someone will jump off the diving board and pull a muscle the week of championships, but I’m tempted to let them have their fun anyway. They began the season as strangers and they will leave as family.
My split sheet, and my heart, are full.