During the 1972 cross country season, our top runner Bill Creamean fought back problems most of the year. Despite his struggles, he led us in the early meets and at the end of the season. But during the middle, he missed a meet or two. That meant it was time for the rest of us to stand up and fill the gap.
The typical Top 3 finish on the team was Creamean-Kresse-Cudworth. The peak of that order was winning our own Kaneland invitational on September 23. Creamean ran the three-mile course in 16.:11, Kresse was our second man at 16:30 and I followed him one second behind at 16:31. But our fourth and fifth men Merid Dates (16:49) and Jim Fay (16:55) were what gave us that thrilling victory on our own turf.
Three days later, we raced Burlington Central. That day, Creamean’s back gave him troubles and I found myself in the lead for the Kaneland Knights, finishing first for our team in 1724 on a hilly layout. The next race at Oregon it was my day to suffer a bit, and I was fourth man for the team at 1743. I recall being really tired from all the racing and wanting to quit.
Right for the day
Then came a bright, clear day on October 12. My legs felt great again and my fitness was sharp. Every stride in the fresh fall air felt eager and determined. I took my first varsity win as a cross country runner in 17:11 on the home Kaneland course.
It’s a strange feeling the first time you win an entire race. I hadn’t experienced that on the sophomore level because my teammate Kirk Kresse was always a few seconds faster.
I remember walking out of the finish chute and turning around to watch another teammate, Bill Sanders, come trucking through the finish line for one of his best performances as second man. Then came Kresse, Fay and Dates. Bill Creamean couldn’t run that day. But we’d all stepped up and done the job.
That’s the real beauty of cross country as a sport. It is individual efforts that add up to team success. There is no “handing off” a football or passing a basketball. Every stride is an effort you own. The finish results are the same way. You can truly say “I did it!” and not feel falsely proud.
Thankfully, Bill Creamean recovered for the Kane County meet and the Little Seven Conference championship on a Halloween afternoon of December 31, 1972.
We ran the race in darkening conditions as we transitioned from fall into winter the time change. I believe that the guy leading the sophomore race took a wrong turn or cut a flag and was disqualified even though he had a big lead.
The gun went off for the varsity race and I recall being seriously relieved that my legs felt good and energetic that afternoon. The 20 dual and triangular meets were now behind us. All that was left to run were the conference meet and Districts, but those were far from my mind. Into the gloom went the lead runners Rich Flynn and Dave Bashaw. Flynn won in 1532 and Bashaw was second in 16:02. He was followed by Brian Lammers of Oswego, our prime team competition. Then Brent Ayer, Chet Krzciuk and our first man Bill Creamean at 1620. Beverly from Plainfield was sevenths, Brian Brown from Oswego was eight and I was ninth in 16:31 just ahead of an up-and-coming freshman Dave Finnestad.
Teammates Bill Sanders took 11th in 16:40, Kresse was 14th in 16:42 and senior Jim Fay was fifth man in 16:48.
That added up to Kaneland’s first-ever Little Seven Conference Championship. But only barely. Oswego was one point behind us. Close meets like that would become a large part of my high school and college running career.
Its significance for the Kaneland program is hard to estimate. The program began in 1967 with a record of 4-4 and 4th place at conference. in 1968 the team went 2-8, in 1969 5-10. and in 1970, the year my brother ran for the team, they had a winning record of 9-8. That program progress took place under the guidance or Rich Born. We were 9-6 in 1971 and 14-3 in 1972. That set the stage for many years of success for Kaneland cross country.
At Districts that fall, held at St. Charles, the Kaneland team also advanced to Sectionals for the first time in its history. Wheaton Central won, and its team leader Tom Howell took first place in 15:03. He’d later become a teammate of mine at Luther College. The teams that qualified were much larger than our little school, as Elgin, Wheaton North, Kaneland and St. Charles advanced.
That race also featured future running friends and competitors well beyond the school years. They included Jim Brown of Wheaton St. Francis who took second, St. Charles’ Greg Birk was third, and Ron Piro of Wheaton North took fourth. I led the Kaneland finishers that day at 16:27, with Creamean, Sanders, Dates, Kresse, Fay and Tim Norris helping the team advance to the Glenbard West sectionals for the first time. That set the foundation for future success. The school has since had many All-State runners and won the Illinois state cross country championship in 2019.
Changes to come
That sophomore season would be my last as a Kaneland Knight. During the winter, my father began looking for a new place to live. There were many contributing factors to that decision. There was a gas shortage going on, and my mother worked as a teacher twelve miles east in St. Charles. Plus father lost his job at National Electronics during the economic downturn. Then he got involved in a network marketing scheme that cost our family serious money.
That meant our lives would be changing again. We’d only just moved to Elburn from Pennsylvania in the summer of 1970. Now we’d be changing schools, and I’d be making yet another new set of friends, and carrying forward whatever success and self-image I could muster.
When I asked my father 25 years later why we moved in the middle of the school year in 1972-73, I inquired, “Was it mom’s job? The gas shortage? Was it money?”
He answered, “No, I didn’t want your young brother to play basketball for that slow-down offense at Kaneland.”
My jaw dropped at his reply. I asked, “What about me? I was Class President! I was one of the top runners in cross country and track! I had all my friends out there!’
To which my father responded, “Oh, I knew you were a social kid. I knew you’d survive.”
Running helped me do that too. But first, there was a school year out at Kaneland to finish. That mean commuting every day from St. Charles to Maple Park. I could not believe what my father had arranged to make that happen.