In August of 1978, I was returning as a senior to Luther College as both a Resident Assistant and Captain of the cross country team. That meant the latter part of August was largely spoken for as my schedule called for attending a weeklong RA Retreat at Bethel Horizons north of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Then it was back to Luther for the start of cross country practice.
But what if Covid-19 had hit the world that summer and college cross country, and even onsite learning at college itself, was canceled? All that training I did to prepare for the fall season would have been for naught. Nor would I have attended the RA Retreat where I fell deeply in love with a woman for the first time in my life.
That would have been a loss in my life. Because in that positive state of mind and fitness, I helped lead the cross country team through many of its 13 meets, even placing as our top man in a dual meet on our own campus. Then we combined to take second place in the NCAA national cross country meet for Division III. I became a Team All-American.
But all that could have been erased if a worldwide pandemic had taken hold.
As it stands, it looks like the sport of cross country at the high school and college level will proceed at some level going into the 2020 season. There is enough open space at every cross country meet to allow for social distancing. At least those runners will have some competition this fall. But I empathize with kids at every level of education and sports these days. It was hard enough for me to concentrate on the work at hand in my high school years, and I struggled in subjects like Algebra and Economics. I did better in college, but distance learning might have afforded me too much latitude.
But who knows?
On track for a clash
In this day and age, it looks like college football will be postponed from fall to spring all the way up to the Power 5 Conferences. Last summer I attended a track reunion at my alma mater and there was already consternation about the fact that many football coaches don’t want their athletes participating in spring track. They’d prefer to have their kids come out and grovel around in spring football than diversify their experience by building speed and toughness in track and field. So football and track are on track for a clash in many places. The convergence of both sports in spring spells trouble.
Why such obsessive preoccupation with the one sport of football? Well, such is the perversity of the American work ethic, where singularity of mind is now so highly prized that selfishness has become the lead instinct of the day. The desire to “have” football at all costs is a reflection of a selfish instinct that has taken over American society today. Even Anti-Vice President Mike Pence is begging for student athletes and coaches, staff and trainers to put themselves at risk in order that others be entertained.
His statement that they “deserve the chance to safely get back on the field” ignores the fact that President Trump is leading a country with one of the worst Covid infection and death rates in the entire world. Yet all Pence cares about is his notion that the “Nation” depends on the “gridiron” for normalcy.
When it comes to normalcy, I’ll side with young people running in a pastoral landscape rather than banging into each other on a field constructed for that purpose with tens of thousand of people that never even played the game cheering or criticizing their every move. There’s actually nothing normal at all about football. It is a manufactured reality.
Both sides of the field
I don’t hate football. Yet even my friend who coaches one of the best programs in Illinois would be first to admit that sports specialization has gotten out of hand. He encourages kids to do both football and track because he is the track coach. But that means he understands that diversity of experience is important to self-development. The football coach at the first high school I attended was also the track coach at Kaneland High School. When I entered as a freshman there was neither a soccer or a baseball program available at the school. Because that football and track coach also happened to be the athletic director. So the more things change, the more they stay the same.
When it all comes down to it, all I wish for student athletes is at some point to experience the thrill of competition. I was blessed in many ways by experiences in years of sports participation, and I played many of them. Baseball, basketball, soccer, track, cross country, and even football, but only in flag tournaments or pickup games.
The only advice anyone can offer kids eager to play the games they love is to keep on practicing. That’s 95% of the sport anyway. That’s where character comes from, but that character is being tested in all new ways these days.