In early 1973, right in the middle of my sophomore year in high school, our family moved 10 miles east from Elburn, Illinois to St. Charles. The rest of that school year I made a daily commute to finish the year at Kaneland, the high school where I’d just helped lead the cross country team to its first-ever conference championship.
I wasn’t a great runner, just a good one. Yet there was speculation upon our move that I somehow wanted to switch schools to run for Trent Richards, a Kaneland grad that had coached me on the Elburn baseball team from the age of 13 to 15.
To this day I’m pretty sure that our family moved because my father had lost his job and blown some money on a network marketing business. Yet when I asked him 25 years later why we moved, he replied, “I didn’t want your younger brother to play basketball in that slowdown offense at Kaneland.”
I actually don’t doubt that response at all. And my younger brother went on to earn a full-ride college scholarship at a Division I school. So whatever the reason for our move, it worked out pretty well for my parents and my brother.
Yet when my father told me the reason why we moved, I asked him: “But what about me? I was Class President and the top runner on the cross country team.”
And my dad replied. “Well, you were a social kid. I knew you’d survive.”
That’s true. It all worked out over time. After all, we’d moved from Pennsylvania to Illinois when I was only twelve. And that worked out just fine. I made friends through sports and school just as I’d done back east in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For a few years I tried to keep up contacts but they inevitably faded in the age of letters, long-distance phone calls and rare trips “back home.” Those former allegiances were real, but they inevitably take a back seat to the present reality.
The same thing happened when I moved from Kaneland to St. Charles. The pressure of finding and keeping friends as the “new kid” at school occupied all my time. Despite my love for the former school and friends, it was impossible not to move on.
The awkward aspect of that sophomore year transfer was having to compete against my former Kaneland cross country and track teammates that next fall and spring. I loved the orange shirts with the black and white shoulders of those Kaneland CC uniforms. My new St. Charles team had the same black and orange colors. But the team uniforms were made from a fabric called Sand Knit, so I wore a sleek shirt beneath the sleeveless jersey to make it more comfortable.
I wasn’t alone in transferring schools during those years. A top-flight runner from the northwest Chicago suburbs moved from Hersey HS to Batavia and took over the local running scene. At one point a local paper called me a “junior sensation” just before we met in the Tri-Cities meet. At the starting line, the ever-cynical Tom Burridge, who went on to compete at University of Kentucky and hold the American Half-Marathon record, turned to me and muttered, “Junior Sensation, my ass…” He trounced me good over the three-mile course.
So while I tried to compete with the best, I simply wasn’t one of them. That said, I still feel a sense of pride for those competitive years. This past weekend I was cleaning out our basement and found the photo (above) of me running against a former Kaneland teammate. It was taken at their own invitational during my junior year in high school. I finished fourth overall and our St. Charles team won the meet. It all brought mixed emotions on my part. To go from allegiance to rivalry was one of the first big lessons in life. Even firm expectations can change. It’s how you adapt to those changes that makes all the difference in life.
Running always helped me do that. It continued in college when encountering former rivals from high school who ran for opposing college teams. It was interesting to transfer those rivalries to an entirely new context. Yet something in me also wanted those high school competitors to do well at the college level. Rivalries are also a form of allegiance, in many respects.
Finally those rivalries spread out across the roads and I even wound up running with former rivals on club teams and other competitive opportunities.
To this day I still run into old rivals socially. What we continue to share is the experience of having done something hard and to the best of our abilities. That’s how we find allegiances all over again.