The Kaneland Cross Country team competed in 21 meets in 1971, my freshman year in high school. That wasn’t just the number of teams we competed against during duals and triangulars.That’s the total number of races we ran.
The weekly meet schedule consisted of Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday meets. We competed in individual meets against every Little Seven Conference team; Batavia, Geneva, Sycamore, Oswego, Plainfield, Cary Grove, and West Chicago. We also ran duals and triangular meets against schools from outside the conference; Hampshire, Burlington Central, Oregon, Sandwich, Stillman Valley, and others. We also hosted the Kaneland Invitational, ran in the Kane County Meet and a couple more invites, then finished the season with the conference meet, then Districts and Sectionals, if we made it that far.
Racing that often was considered normal back then. We didn’t view it as unusually hard, but later, when I joined a college program, the comments about “Illinois runners” centered on the idea that we were all “burned out” from racing too much. Perhaps there was some truth in that. Cross country programs don’t race nearly as much these days. Probably that’s a result of coaches from our era who recalled their intense racing days and took steps to lighten the meet load so that kids would not be burned out.
A ton of us still went on to long running careers. I still think all that racing was a great way to learn how to deal with all kinds of meets and circumstances. But I measured success in several ways. First there was how our team did. Then came my place on the team and in the race. Most of the final times were relative to the style of the course, but they still mattered to me. On my race commentary, I also included subjective emotional observations about my state of mind before and during the races. There were plenty of comments about nerves, pressure and fatigue. That’s part of running.
We didn’t always run a full three miles in cross country in those days. The standardization of that distance for high school races was still a year or two away. I also bounced up and down from running with the sophomore squad at two miles and varsity meets of 2.65 miles and up.
I liked running varsity meets while sporting the Kaneland orange team shirts with the black-and-while epaulettes. I loved those uniforms. In this photo, you can almost see the velcro flaps on my Puma kangaroo-skin spikes.
We won the sophomore conference title that freshman year in cross country. It was the first conference team victory for Kaneland Cross Country. The following year, we won the Varsity Little Seven Conference meet as well. Those were foundational accomplishments for a program that was just a few years old in total. Even at that age, I understood what it meant to help build a winning program. Coaches Rich Born and Larry Eddington were a wonderful compliment to each other. We even had a team of statisticians that timed and tracked our performances at every meet.
That freshman year was a true character-builder. Days after the season was over, basketball season started. In that sport, I wound up moving up from the freshman to the sophomore squad . After a winter of indoor hoops, the indoor track season started up in late February or early March. There was really no rest for the weary in those days. It was all part of being an athlete.