During the 1972 cross country season at Kaneland High School, the program started to fulfill its potential in new ways. The Varsity and Sophomore programs both finished with 14-3 records for the year. The schedule of 17 dual and triangular meets was standard for the time, and set up many scenarios for team drama over the course of the season.
One of the things I loved about that team was the mix of personalities on the squad. From the calm and understated strength of its leader Bill Creamean, to the raw talent and quiet inspiration of Kirk Kresse, the interactions were formative on many levels. I don’t recall much about the bus trips, though there were many, but a few little moments stand out in my mind. One of these was a trip through the cornfields in which I shared a seat with Kirk. We were both starting to suffer nearsightedness, and he demonstrated how he overcame the problem by pulling his eyelid tight. Somehow that felt like he could see better. I doubt that was true, and I wore glasses all that season, but didn’t like it.
Such are the tiny things that form team bonds. During runs, the banter. In the locker rooms, the joking and teasing from shower to changing. During school hours, the nod while moving down the hallway and seeing a teammate. Knowing that we were doing something special. That was what made the year so fun. We were working hard. And we were winning.
Unfortunately, that was not the case for the football team at Kaneland that year. The Little Seven was a tough football Conference. Schools like West Chicago and Geneva fielded exceptional teams. Kaneland was filled with big guys, but it was still difficult to win. If I recall correctly, our cross country team was 11-1 at one point and the football program had earned just one win on the season. I may be off a bit on those recollections, but it was definitely a season in which our success far exceeded that of the more popular sport.
There should not have been any sense of competition between the two sports, yet there were frequent enough comments from football players about cross country being a “pussy sport” that it was triumphal to stand up before a school sports assembly mid-season and be recognized for our accomplishments thus far. The football team couldn’t say much at that point. Their record sucked.
There was just one problem with our momentary glory. Coach Born had ordered a set of long-sleeve orange training shirts as a reward for our progress. We were instructed to wear them for the assembly. But after the first wash, the shirts shrank because they were 100% cotton. Stiff as a board. The bottoms of the shirt flared out and could not be tucked in. Instead they blossomed around our waist in a semi-ridiculous fashion. It was not anyone’s fault. The materials in those days weren’t sophisticated in style, material, or construction. I recall the desperate embarrassment in trying to keep that shirt from sticking out like a short dress. Heading back to the locker room, one of my football friends snarked, “Nice skirt.” Looking back, it seems comic now. But to a 15-year-old obsessed with social acceptance, that was not a high point.
We kept on rolling just the same. The only teams to whom we lost were a tough and dismissive Dekalb squad. We ran well but lost by two points 27-29. Cary Grove and its conference champion Rich Flynn also beat us 27-28. We ran on the CG campus and Rich led us on the course tour. Midway through the tour he peeled off and sprinted through the heart of the football team’s practice, shouting “KILL KILL KILL!” I loved Rich Flynn for that one. He was a wildly talented guy, and I’d have liked to have gotten to know him better.
At Oswego we beat them 21-38. The race started and finished on the track during a football game intermission. At one point we ran under the stands, and Oswego fans dumped Cokes on our heads. I was so glad we beat them that day. But they would come back in a big way come conference time.
The small school of Oregon beat us 20-34. I don’t recall who their best runners were, but from the score, they were a clearly superior team. Their course was a wicked affair, set on a hilly golf club. That club is no longer in operation, but one can still see where the fairways once ran between lines of trees. Talk about ghostly memories.
In the invitationals, we were 2nd of 21 teams at Ottawa and 1st of 18 teams at the Kaneland Invitational. That was the first time we won our own meet, a major program accomplishment.
We were 3rd of 10 teams at the Kane County meet, 4th of 15 at Districts. But the capper of the season was a first place in the Little Seven Conference meet at Plainfield. Kaneland had 56 points. Oswego had 57. Every single guy on our team counted that day. I got to know Brian Brown from Oswego during the season. He was one of those chill guys that would talk to you before and after meets. He later ran for Augustana, as I recall. I almost attended that school as well. But I’d see him again as a runner for Luther College. Oswego’s outstanding freshman Dave Finnestad was a place behind me at conference, and he’d become one of the finest athletes to emerge from that school along with Ty Wolf, who went on to run for the University of Illinois, I believe.
The season wasn’t all joy and glory. Our best runner Bill Creamean struggled with back problems all season. He was awarded the humorously titled Stored Heat Award for all the analgesic rubbed on his back during the season to keep the pain away. Despite those limitations, he competed in almost every meet.
Kirk Kresse and I tied for individual total points earned on the season at 145. Bill Creamean was right behind at 144. Merid Dates had 81. Jim Fay, 59. Bill Sanders, 57. That shows the balance we brought to the table. My longtime friend Tim Norris was a solid sixth man all season, as were Chuck Gebauer, Ken Johnson, John Lowe and Chuck McGee. We ran all those miles together and turned our dreams into reality.
At the end of the season I took a drawing that I’d done of a world-class 10K race and re-drew it depicting our Top 7 in the same positions. That drawing appeared on the cover of the season summary booklet Coach Born gave us all. I treasure that year, but things were all going to change in a hurry for me in the year to come.