50 Year of Running: The Maroons Come to Play

Coming off the St. Charles victory in which we snapped the 60+ dual meet streak of Naperville Central, we faced a squad from Elgin High School that was more than our equal. The afternoon broke cool and slightly overcast. Classic cross country weather. The late afternoon sunshine cast long shadows even as we toed the line. Our seven guys and their seven guys lined up at the bottom of the athletic fields near Route 64 in St. Charles, and we took off running up a series of inclines to the upper campus.

From right to left, and corrections are accepted: Karl Ulrich (Elgin), Marty Van Acker (STC), Ed White (Elgin), Paul Morlock (STC), John Shorey (Elgin), Kevin Webster (STC, (unknown Elgin), John Brandli (STC), (unknown Elgin) Rob Walker (STC).

The St. Charles High School Campus course was a series of loops that included some sharp turns so that it was easy to see how the race was developing. That day in 1973, there was little separation between the two sides. The squads were so evenly matched that it only seconds separated the first through fifth men.

Chris Cudworth leading Ken Englert, John Shorey and Marty Van Acker

I led the race early with Elgin’s Ken Englert a step behind. He was an intimidating opponent with his strong legs and surfer boy looks. His teammate John Shorey stuck close and our second runner Marty Van Acker was right behind. All within two seconds of each other nearing the mile mark.

Cudworth, Shorey, Englert and Van Acker

We circled past the start and began climbing the west side of campus in a series of right turns culminating at an elementary school on the far southwest side of campus. The four leaders stayed close through every turn. Englert and Shorey kept the pressure on.

Shorey, Cudworth and Van Acker

As we made the last turn toward the finish chute John Shorey had crept ahead and Ken Englert launched a sprint. My teammate Marty Van Acker was right there as well. The placement of this foursome would effectively decide the outcome of the meet.

Engler, Cudworth, Shorey

I launched my own sprint in an attempt to catch Englert. But as you can see from this photo, he was in full flight and not to be caught this day. I had my eyes on the finish line, and our cheerleaders had seen us home, but Ken won the race.

In the finishing chute

The final score of the meet was 27-29. St. Charles won the dual.

But a week or so later, Elgin outran us at the Kane County meet. Their coach Jerry Cusack knew how to motivate and coach kids as well as our coach Trent Richards.

The thrill of that rivalry was something that I thought I alone relished all these years. Yet one day about six or seven years ago, I received a phone call from an Elgin runner whose name I can’t recall. He talked about the joys of competition between our two teams, and we reminisced while recalling the names of our fellow teammates. “You guys were fun to run against,” he told me. I agreed. It was always fun when the Maroons came to play.

Then he made a proposal of sorts. “Would you want to get some guys together again to run a cross country meet?”

I laughed a bit at that. While I’m still running and competing, and a few of my teammates still put in some miles, the substance of a full squad just isn’t there fifty years later. “I love the idea,” I told my fellow running enthusiast. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

The newspaper clipping to that Elgin versus St. Charles race got lost in a move a few years back, but I feel blessed to have gotten the yearbook photos from that year to share the atmosphere of a cross country race that was epic in its small little sphere. As I’ve written, I also found this old program photo that lay buried next to the football field for ten years.

I guess we can all thank our rivals for creating those moments in time. Win or lose, it makes you part of an intense ritual that in many respects can last a lifetime.

That starting line when everyone is nervous and anxious. The first mile when the legs and lungs starting talking together. The pack forms and the positions jostle. The hills come along to test your resolve. The turns force you to slow and start up running again. Then that finishing sprint. Do you have what it takes?

In fifty years of running, those are the sensations that I treasure the most.

The other interesting facet of this rivalry is that my competitor Ken Englert and I share a love of nature that has carried through our lives. Ken is an exceptional wildlife photographer and I’m a wildlife painter.

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50 Years of Running: The Peregrine

My painting Peregrine and Prey, circa 2016.

This morning while walking the dog in late September sun, I thought back to one of the first cross country meets of the season for St. Charles in 1973. Our team was training well, and we knew that there were good things to come. Yet a tremendous obstacle stood in our way. We were about to face a Naperville Central cross country program that had won more than sixty dual meets in a row.

Not having spent the first two years of my cross country career in the Upstate Eight Conference, I was not aware of the Naperville Central reputation. All I knew is that I was performing as our top runner in practice, and needed to get ready to face whatever came our way.

There was a gap in time between the end of school that day and the scheduled time for the meet. I took the book I was reading to the top of the bleachers in the football stadium and sat in the sun. That book was titled The Peregrine by J.A. Baker. I didn’t know it at the time, but it is considered one of the all-time greatest naturalist books ever written.

What I did know is that it inspired me. As a sixteen-year-old kid I was already deep into birding. My lifelist had grown to more than two-hundred species. My brothers and I would often visit forest preserves to find new birds. But I had not yet seen a peregrine falcon.

That’s because peregrines were rare and endangered in the early 1970s. So were bald eagles, ospreys, and other birds at the top of the food chain. All had their populations decimated by the presence of DDT in the environment, causing eggshells to thin and bird populations to drop as a result.

I’d found The Peregrine on a bookshelf in the high school library. I believe my biology teacher and birding friend Bob Horlock had recommended it to me. That copy of the book was simply bound with a plain black cover and the title embossed in gold on the front.

My drawings of a gyrfalcon and peregrine done from live birds at Cornell University in 1977.

I carried the book around with me for days, poring through its tales about tracking peregrine falcons along the coast of England. The romance of that immersion entranced me. I could feel the cool breeze off the ocean. Sense the flow of bird flocks in the wind. Smell the scents of heather and surf. And thrill to the idea of a peregrine in full stoop striking down a fleeing gull.

Already I had a deep interest in writing as well. That’s what made the book so compelling. Few writers in history have achieved such glorious economy of words, yet rich in meaning. J.A. Baker was a master at that.

“Crows flew up again to chase the hawk away, and the three birds drifted east. Dry feathered and more buoyant now, the tiercel did not beat his wings, but simply soared in the abundant warmth of air. He dodged easily the sudden rushes of the crows, and swooped at them with waggling snipey wings. One crow planed back to earth, but the other plodded on, beating heavily round, a hundred feet below the hawk. When both were very small and high above the wooded hill, the hawk slowed down to let the crow catch up. They dashed at each other, tangling and flinging away, swooping up to regain the height they lost. rising and fighting, they circled out of sight. Long aferwards the crow came floating back, but the hawk had gone. Half-way to the estuary I found him again, circling among thousands of starlings. They ebbed and flowed about him, bending and flexing sinuously in the sky, like the black funnel of a whirlwind. They carried the tormented hawk towards the coast, till all were suddenly scorched from sight in the horizon’s gold corona.”

So immersed was I in reading The Peregrine that a teammate had to find me atop the bleachers and call me to the task. “C’mon, Cud. It’s time for the meet.”

My drawings of a gyrfalcon and peregrine drawn from life at Cornell University in 1977.

I walked down the bleachers in the pleasant fog of literary disassociation. In the locker room I pulled on the St. Charles uniform and shoes, then went out to jog and warm up. Images of peregrines were still floating around in my head. My mind and body were relaxed even to the point in time when we pulled on our spikes and stepped to the line. The gun rang out and I swept in with the top two Naperville runners Bob Warner and Rick Hodapp. We ran the course together and I felt in complete and absolute control the entire way. No fear entered my head. It felt like one of those good dreams when you actually can run and nothing is holding you back.

I don’t recall whether I won or took second place that day. It didn’t matter because my teammates also ran astoundingly well. We won the race against Naperville Central, snapping their dual meet streak and proving to ourselves that we were legitimate in some way.

We cooled down with an excited jog after the race. Only then did my head seem to come out of its peregrine-induced state. We joked and laughed among us, waved to our cheerleaders, and thrilled to the idea that we had support from a great group of young women who seemed to understand that this was a team with a purpose.

That night I lay in bed reading yet another chapter of The Peregrine. The language drew me in: “East of my home, the long ridge lies across the skyline like the low hull of a submarine. Above it, the eastern sky is bright with reflection of distant water, and there is a feeling of sails beyond land. Hill trees mass together in a dark-spired forest, but when I move towards them they slowly fan apart, the sky descends between, and they are solitary oaks and elms, each with its own wide territory of winter shadow. The calmness, the solitude of horizons lures me towards them, through them, and on to others. They layer the memory like strata.”

I fell asleep with peregrine dreams in my head.

Running that day was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. I wish that I’d learned to live all of life that way, without fear, anxiety, and full of purpose released. Or perhaps it is best that we have these experiences that remain unique and transcendent, as sudden and free as a peregrine falcon floating across the sky.

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50 Years of Running: A Force of Nature

Coach Trent Richards, a “force of nature” cheering me on at the Plainfield Invitational.

Few activities put you more in touch with nature than distance running. That’s especially true in cross country, where the training often takes you into the woods and fields where it’s you, the air you breath and the ground you have to cover. Pure. Simple. Profound. That is the force of nature. It compels you to deal with reality in many ways.

In joining the cross country team in St. Charles, circa 1973, my fate collided with another ‘force of nature,’ a coach named Trent Richards. He was the cross country head coach and assistant in track and field at St. Charles High School.

Before I moved to St. Charles as a pending junior in high school, Trent was my baseball coach for the Elburn American Legion team. At the age of thirteen and fourteen, I pitched against kids several years older. Trent saw potential in me that other coaches did not. Following tryouts for the regional All-Star team that would travel to play a tournament in the Chicago suburbs, I overheard him talking to the lead coach that was making selections. “Cudworth isn’t much to look at, but he throws hard,” Trent told him. “And he’s super competitive.”

At the first regional All-Star game, the hard-throwing pitcher the lead coach chose was knocked out of the game in the first inning. I was placed in the game and our team scored several runs in the next few innings as I held the opponents at bay with a mix of pitches; a wide curveball, a slider, a sinker, a screwball, and a fastball.

Our fielders were excellent and the sinker produced a ton of ground balls, so we got people out. Then a big old batter from the other team got hold of a fastball and drove it toward the left field fence. I watched the ball fly through the air as our outfielder Jeff Healy ran to the fence, leaped high in the air, and snagged the fly ball before it went out of the park for a home run. I knew Healy as a long jumper for the Kaneland High School track team. I was grateful for his hops that day.

We ultimately lost the game on a passed ball to our catcher Rick Lay when he called for a slider and I threw him a screwball. He was a lefty catcher and the screwball hit him in the bare hand. Ten years later I saw Rick working at a tool rental place and he recognized me. Holding up his left hand, he showed me the bent finger that I’d given him that day. He laughed, “Thanks a lot. I’ll always remember you!”

Wild adventures

I recall that playing baseball for Trent was always a raucous, wild adventure. I have a false front tooth because he was hitting grounders to us one twilight afternoon and he accidentally hit a line drive that struck me in the mouth, knocking out a tooth so that it hung by a bloody thread. That’s kind of how it was with Trent Richards. He drove you to be your best, but his influence could also be sort of chaotic, even damaging in some ways.

His coaching style was similarly dynamic, shall we say. His hoarse voice could be heard across any field in the universe. He could also whistle like a groundhog on steroids. Plus he’d show up on the course at unexpected moments cheering you on as if it were the last step you would ever take on earth. Running for Trent sometimes felt like you were running from Trent.

Yet he also loved the team concept so much that he found ways to bring us together that few other coaches could manage. When we started the cross country season in 1973, there was a unique chemistry going on, because I’d arrived in town to provide a lead runner after Greg Birk graduated, My newfound friend Paul Morlock ditched football to become a cross country runner. We also had Marty VanAcker, a tough runner with black Elvis Costello glasses who was so consistent that he kept me honest every race. Kevin Webster was the wry counterpart of VanAcker, a tall and olive-skinned runner with quiet determination. John (Jack) Brandli was the energetic soul of the team, and Rob Walker brought the camaraderie of Who songs to the locker room showers. Entering the season in 1973, we didn’t know what lay ahead. But it felt like something special was going on.

Trent ran around the school campus as we did our workouts. He carried a stopwatch with him at all times and was even known to toss it at us if we were lagging in workouts. He often sported plaid pants and wore a St. Charles jacket of one kind or another everywhere he went. His presence in the regional cross country scene was well-known to other programs by all these trademarks. He was unafraid to talk up the opposing coach or pass along a competitive word if he felt it might give us some sort of advantage. Trent truly was a force of nature.

A coach’s coach

However, he was also consulted by coaches from other schools, including Batavia’s coach Joe Yagel, whose top runner Tom Burridge had transferred from Hersey high school that year. Trent knew Burridge from summer track racing and other connections, so he helped Yagel guide Burridge through training. As a runner, I understood that Tom stood at a different level than I in terms of ability. That’s why I never objected to Trent offering to help Burridge in any way. Trouble was, Tom’s presence in Batavia raised the quality of that program through his talent and determination. Like I said, Trent’s force of nature approach sometimes had reverse consequences.

That said, Trent challenged me to challenge Tom Burridge whenever we raced. I always got my ass kicked, but it was not in my character to back down either. But looking back, I undestood that in essence, Tom was in a different league than me. That reminds me of the scene in Field of Dreams when the young kid Moonlight Graham gets a chance to bat against the big league pitcher, He almost gets beaned for winking at the tough older pitcher. He retreats for advice from Shoeless Joe Jackson, who tells him not to wink again. “And look for the fastball…” he tells him. “But watch out for in your ear…” Midnight Graham manages to hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring a run for his team. Some of our lesser triumphs still count for something.

That scene was much like Trent’s approach in all situations. So what if you were outmatched? There was no backing down. No room for compromise. Get out there and get it done if you can. Have fun along the way, but keep the goal in mind. But watch out for “in your ear.”

Rocking and rolling

Thanks to Trent’s presence, those first few days of cross country at St. Charles in 1973 were familiar in some ways and yet a big adjustment from the previous year at Kaneland High School. As a team, we got out there and sweated together in the August heat. When practice was over, we avoided the horrific gauntlet of stinky football players filing into the locker rooms if we happened to arrive at the same time. We’d slip through the locker room doors and strip off our running stuff to gather naked in the showers singing those brilliant 70s rock songs at the top of our lungs.

Ever since I was a young boy
I’ve played the silver ball
From Soho down to Brighton
I must have played ’em all
But I ain’t seen nothing like him
In any amusement hall
That deaf, dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pinball

We sang tunes by Chicago. Yes, Neil Young, Elton John, David Bowie. That music fueled so many steps…but the irony of our young circumstance was not lost on us. Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album made sure of that.

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking Racing around to come up behind you again The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Trent left us to those devices. He knew that bonds were building that would help drive us to team success. There are few moments in life like these, when disparate dreams come together in one place. Everyone seems to feel the momentum, and special things start to happen. The fall of 1973 cross country season was like that. Good things were coming our way.

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50 Years of Running: The adidas factor

The year in which I began my running career were a transitional time in terms of available running shoes. The gum rubber flats we used for training in 1971 and ’72 were not much good for road running. I was glad when the German shoe company adidas penetrated the American market and we could put good running shoes on our feet for the first time.

In the spring of 1972, the Varsity track team at Kaneland High School was issued a shoe called the adidas Gazelle. The pair that I received were a brushed suede leather. They were sky blue with three white stripes. The sole was flat with a textured rubber grip. I loved those shoes because they meant that I was accepted as part of the varsity team as a sophomore.

I wore them several weeks in practice. Then we headed out to a meet in Rochelle, Illinois. It was a cold, grey day with a sullen wind blowing. I reluctantly dropped my sweats in a bundle near some other Kaneland runners and pulled on my running spikes. They might have been adidas too, but they weren’t the super-comfortable kangaroo-leather Pumas that I’d been given to wear as a freshman cross country runner. Despite their heinous origins, I will love those shoes as long as I live.

I ran the two-mile that day, and returned with cold-chapped legs and a head full of sweat. Pulling on my sweats, I looked around for the adidas Gazelles and realized they were missing. Frantically, I looked all around the area in case someone had moved my sweats. No such luck. The Gazelles had been stolen.

The anger that welled up in me at that moment was uncontrollable, and sad. I asked around to see if anyone had moved my shoes. That was hopeful at best. “You lost your shoes?” a teammate asked. “No, I think someone stole them.”

“Yeah. You shouldn’t leave stuff out like that,” he reminded me.

For sure, I was too trusting of the world at that age. Far too trusting.

That theft meant I had nothing left to wear on my feet the rest of the meet except my spikes. I pulled those on sullenly and sat on the cold ground. I was scheduled to double back and run the mile that day. I was less than enthusiastic about that.

The next day at school, I had to inform the team manager that my shoes had been stolen. That afternoon I received another pair of gum rubber flats to wear for the rest of the season. Talk about depressing.

A new year, and new shoes

So it was with a certain amount of appreciative glee that I received a set of adidas Italia running shoes on showing up for cross country practice at St. Charles High School in the fall of 1973. They were white leather with an attractive green sole and matching three green stripes. They soles were practical, and flat. The grip was a sort of hexagonal pattern that I held up to the light to behold.

Italias were an immensely functional shoe. They held up quite well running on dew-soaked grass. They felt good on the roads as well. I received a set of adidas running spikes as well. They where white with black stripes. We’d usually use athletic tape to cover the shoelaces after tying them. That kept the shoe from coming untied. A pretty practical measure, one that I wished I’d followed on occasion later in my running career.

That same year, adidas came out with a running shoe called the SL-72. It was a blue model with white stripes and a much more aggressive sole structure and pattern. That model set the tone for running shoe evolution for years to come. They were issued in kind with the 1972 Munich Olympics. I trained in several pairs of those shoes, which featured nylon uppers. They were lighter than the adidas Italia and breathed better. Another adidas model called the SL-76 would come out in time for the Montreal, but they were stiff by comparison with the SL-72 and about that time an entire range of running shoes from Nike to Brooks had emerged on the market.

But a part of me will always hold dear the first season of training in actual adidas running shoes. They made me feel like a real runner, and my performances that year honored those instincts in many ways. One can argue that the shoes don’t make the man, and I would agree. But they sure can help.

So thank you, adidas. I will love your three stripes forever.

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50 Years of Running: No Man’s Land

My watercolor illustration the State of Golf In Illinois. All rights reserved.

As summer proceeded in 1973, I spent many days playing golf at Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles.

My new friend Rob Walker and I were members at the park district course, which probably cost $35 for the entire season. We’d sometimes play 36 holes carrying our bags on the nine-hole course. Sometimes we’d keep score, sometimes not.

Rob also worked at the St.Charles Country Club, the private course on the north end of town. I’d stop by while he was shining shoes at the back end of the club house. Eventually I got roped into caddying, a job I hated. Lugging a bag of golf clubs around for someone else felt like a gross indignity to me. Not that I was some spoiled rich kid that didn’t want to work. I just found the whole caddying thing absurd.

I grew up on the Meadia Heights Country Club in southeastern Pennsylvania from the age of five through twelve. Before that, my brothers and I hung around Seneca Falls Country Club in Upstate New York where my parents were members. We learned the game of golf early on in life, and all of us were decent if not great golfers. It disgusted me to carry a golf bag around for someone else while they hacked up the course.

My favorite thing to do on the Meadia Heights Golf Club was golfing on rainy days. I’d grab a three wood, a seven-iron and putter, then head out on the outer reaches of the course where I couldn’t be seen from the club house. My golf ball collection was pretty large as I’d picked up many a golf call on journeys to my best friend’s house on the 17th fairway, so I was never lacking for equipment.

I’d often play barefoot, running from shot to shot as I played from tee to green. I’d tee it up and hit the drive, then scoop up the tee and take off running, sometimes barefoot, on the rain-soaked fairways. I loved the feeling of playing golf that way, so free and unencumbered by the rules and etiquette of golf. Instead, I’d catch up to my golf ball and toss the clubs down on the ground, line up the seven iron and hit it as far as I could with the iron, then chase after it again. I’d play nine holes out of sight from anyone on earth. The golf course was my own. That was the right kind of No Man’s Land.

The caddy life

One of the holes at Meadia Heights where I’d run hole-to-hole playing barefoot in the rain

As I grew old enough to caddy for other golfers, the money seemed irresistible. I quickly found out how stifling it was to carry a golf bag for stuffy members trundling around with their stupid clothes and rotten swings. Frankly, I hated it. I didn’t caddy much at Meadia Heights, but at least I learned the skills needed to carry it further.

Once we moved to St. Charles, I started caddying again and wound up assigned to carry for the pro one afternoon. He was a terse gentleman about his game. Obviously, it was serious business for him to play well. It didn’t bode well for the club pro to get beaten by any other members. So I hauled his giant golf bag around with the best intentions, but it was a hot day and I kept getting distracted by my own thoughts. Such is the life of a young man with a mild case of ADHD. That was the last time I carried for the pro. He tipped me well, but I wasn’t asked back again.

So I didn’t caddy all that often afer that, and found myself in a sort of no-man’s land with no paper route, no other job and a month to use up between schools and school years. I didn’t have anyone urging me to run some summer miles at that point, so I played basketball, rode my crappy bike around town, and played golf for hours on end.

Rude audition

One late summer afternoon, Rob and I were done golfing and wound up on the west end of town where the Dairy Queen stood on Route 64. I think I’d made a few bucks carrying a golf bag that day. The weather was hot and muggy, so I ordered a giant chocolate shake at DQ. Then we walked across the street to the high school and stumbled on a practice for the St. Charles Track Club.

The club was coached by Trent Richards, my soon-to-be cross country coach and formerly my baseball coach in Elburn. He spotted Rob and I walking on the sidewalk outside the track and called us in. “Come on in here, Cudworth,” he yelled in his raspy voice. “We’re doing 400s. Come show these people what you can do…”

By that point, I’d already downed half the chocolate shake. I could feel the cold liquid in my stomach. It was hot and humid outside, warm enough that just walking made you break a sweat. I was wearing a set of jean and a pair of worn-out Chuck Taylor shoes. A few sets of eyes were upon me as I set down the milk shake and stepped out on the track. “Cudworth here is going to run for me this fall,” he announced to a band of track athletes gathered near the starting line. “You ready, Cuddy?”

I was not ready. I was feeling thick and slow with a gut full of milk shake and fully out of shape. But Trent wasn’t one for patient considerations when it came to sports of any kind. He raised his stop watch and called out, “Go!” I took off running on the smooth cinder track with that milk shake gurgling around in my gut. At 200 yards, I was ready to barf.

At the finish line, he called out my time in his barking voice. “67…68…69…. Then he intoned, “Hell, Cudworth. I’ve got girls here that can kick your ass with that time…”

“I just drank a milk shake,” I complained.

“That shouldn’t bother you,” Trent replied. “You should come here more often.”

He was right. That would have been a good thing to do.

The St. Charles Track Club had some of the best athletes in the region, both men and women. Trent was especially far ahead of his time in terms of encouraging women runners. I recall women runners breaking 60 in the 400. High jumping 5’8″. I remember being intimidated by their athletic shapes that afternoon. He coached some of the finest female athletes in the region in that summer track club.

There were quite a few leading men runners involved as well. To be truthful, I was a bit scared to come run with them. I hated getting my ass kicked, and there were runners far better than me in the STC Track Club.

The team traveled across the state to cities like Rockford, Moline, Bloomington, Belvedere, Chicago and Aurora to compete. Trent helped build the careers of Junior Olympic champions. Many went on to place in Illinois state meets and even win national AAU championships.

But that summer, I’d had enough change for one year, and I was new in town and reticent to join the traveling track club party. That was a missed opportunity. It would have been good for me to get involved in a track program where it didn’t matter what school you attended. Plus the girls were active, smart, athletic and fun. It would have been healthy to meet women that were defined by effort rather than their social order

The following summer, I did involved.

But for a kid in No Man’s Land during that summer of 1973, that quarter mile interval with a milk shake in my gut followed by insult was enough to keep me away from the track until August. When cross country practice started, I’d meet a whole new crop of runners from other schools thanks to Trent’s connections. That first few weeks would prove to be a testing ground like none I’d ever experienced before.

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50 Years of Running: A New Kid In Town

Johnny-come-lately
The new kid in town
Everybody loves you
So don’t let them down

You look in her eyes
The music begins to play
Hopeless romantics
Here we go again

Once the school year ended and my daily commute from St. Charles to Kaneland High School was over, my life turned a page that would not be turned back. As I could not yet drive, there were no trips out to hang with friends. Plus my closest buddies were spread out across several towns in the Kaneland district; Elburn, Sugar Grove, Kaneville, Maple Park, and Virgil. There was no real way to connect with anyone given the era. So for the first few weeks, I spent time exploring our new neighborhood and learning where the nearest basketball courts could be found.

Rob Walker, Paul Morlock and Chris Cudworth. We met in the summer of 1973, and remain close friends to this day.

My mother Emily was the one that planned a meeting with a guy whose friendship would last a lifetime. His name was Rob Walker, she told me, and he ran cross country for St. Charles. My mom worked with his mother at Wild Rose School, and they’d become close through that association.

It was probably a Saturday night that my mom or dad dropped me off in the parking lot of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in St. Charles. I got out of the car and waved to the guy with the curly blonde hair and a wry grin standing in the parking lot. “Hey man!” he called out. “Nice to meet you! I’ve run against you but we’ve never met!”

It was late afternoon and we walked down toward the river and met up with a couple girls named Marge and Rita. We hung out playing basketball in the yard and then Rob announced, “It’s time to go get PJ.”

Walking to PJs

I didn’t know it at that moment, but PJ (Paul Joseph Morlock) lived a couple miles away across the river and nearly into the town of Geneva. Rob and I walked the whole way over while getting to know each other. He made me feel at ease, cracking jokes and talking about our respective running careers.

We arrived at PJ’s house and I walked in behind Rob to be greeted by Paul’s parents. His father spoke with a strong stutter that sometimes took a moment to crease as his tongue clicked in his mouth. Then he said, with a warm, full voice: “Nice to meet you.”

His sweet mom Joan was a prototypical 1970s mom. The house was arranged neatly and the kitchen adjoined the living room, which was clearly the center of family life in the Morlock household. I sat down after a moment and was immediately greeted with the dark nose of the family pup, a spaniel mix named Pokey. He growled at me and a muzzle pressed against my leg. The message was, “I don’t like strangers.”

No one seemed to notice my dilemma with the grumpy family dog. Rob kept up the banter as Paul’s younger sister Mim swept through the room on the way out the door. I was struck by her simple beauty and tried hard to hide the fact that I’d noticed. Perhaps the worst thing a guy can do is scam on a guy’s little sister the first time you meet him. She was heading into her freshman year at the time.

We sat there having conversation, and Pokey finally relented from his guard duties. I was immensely relieved. Rob kind of held court with the Morlock parents who clearly adored his polite yet friendly conversation. PJ kind of observed the goings-on as was his habit, I would learn across a lifetime. Then he announced, “Well, we should probably get going.”

Nighthawks

We walked into the twilight with the sound of nighthawks falling to our ears. It was another mile’s walk back to downtown St. Charles where a school dance was being held at the Powder Keg, a downstairs room at the St. Charles park district Baker Center. To this day, I have no clue why the place was called the Powder Keg.

Rob and PJ and I walked down 3rd Street in St. Charles and turned to find a stream of kids heading for the dance. It was probably late June and the air was warm and sweet. I felt at home with these two new guys that I’d met. Along the way I learned that Paul was going to leave the football program at St. Charles High School and join the cross country team.

It was then that I also realized I’d likely seen him before at the regional Punt, Pass and Kick competition in Naperville or some other suburb. I recalled a tall, strong kid that beat me. At St. Charles he was one of the top prospects to take over as quarterback at some point in the varsity football program. But Paul was close with Rob Walker and the cross country program was showing improvement after a year when the recently graduated Greg Birk moved on to run at Wabash College. So he’d made the decision to switch sports. His father was not too happy about the decision. But that would change.

We walked inside the Powder Keg and I think a live band was playing. We met up with Rita and Marge and a gal named Roxanne. Before I knew it, I was out on the dance floor immersed in the music. I loved to dance and during the night was kept busy because there were plenty of girls who also like to dance and not as many guys were willing as I. That was the first impression I made upon new classmates at St. Charles High School. The skinny kid with the mop of hair really knew how to dance. I guess there could have been worse ways to introduce myself to a new peer group.

When the dancing’s over

When the dance ended we walked back out and found a warm evening awaiting us. I wipe the sweat from my hairline and adjusted my wire-rimmed glasses in the orange glow of the streetlight.

We said goodbye to PJ, who walked home alone while Rob and I headed back toward the church lot where we’d met. We stood in the parking lot waiting for our parents to pick us up and conversation finally lagged.

“Well Cuddy,” Rob intoned, using my favorite nickname already. “This was fun. See you soon?”

“For sure,” I replied. “I had a great time. Let’s play some hoops or something sometime?”

“Maybe some golf?” Rob responded. “Down at Pottawatomie?”

And so it went that first evening in the summer of 1973. I met two guys with whom I”d spend a lifetime together. After jumping through so many hoops that winter and spring, it felt good to be getting some traction in a new town.”

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50 Years of Running: Jumping Through Hoops

I’m #10, getting crushed while fighting for rebounds under the boards.

While my love of running had grown through a pair of successful cross country seasons, I’d been raised in a basketball family and went straight to practice the week after the Sectionals meet where our small school got handed a lesson amongst the much bigger programs east of us toward Chicago. In 1972, there were no Class A or Class AA divisions in cross country. Everyone got lumped together.

We might have done pretty well at the Class A level if there had been one. But lacking a chance to run in the state meet, I quickly shifted priorities and strapped on the Chuck Taylor lowtops to start basketball season. Our Coach Harold Anderson was the teacher who helped cross country coach Rich Born take on the program. I liked the way that Anderson coached basketball too. While we followed the Varsity program’s slow-down offense to some degree, he improvised and loved the transition game as well.

I did too, because my endurance, speed and ball-handling skills fit that game perfectly. Granted, I was also a hot-dogger to some degree, having developed a massive skillset of behind-the-back and between-the-legs dribbling and passing modeled after my hoops here Pistol Pete Maravich. More than once I heard coaches call out, “Cudworth, make the easy pass.” But that didn’t register entirely with me. Making behind the back passes was easy for me. Perhaps if they’d said “Make the simpler pass” it might have kicked in. But I doubt it.

Our sophomore squad one quite a few games but I don’t really recall the record. There isn’t even a photo of the full sophomore squad in the Kaneland yearbook in 1973. That’s because the varsity team had a far more compelling story to tell.

As I recall that year, the Kaneland varsity basketball team got roughed up quite a bit during the regular season. If memory serves, they won just 11 games to 17 losses against conference and other foes. But toward the end of the season, thanks to a classmate of mine named Ron Ackerman, the Kaneland system of slow-down offense (it was called the Hokey Pokey) and 1-3-1 trap defense started winning games in the post-season tournament.

Ackerman was indefatigable at the point guard position. His ability to harass and push opponents into full and half-court traps resulted in many steals. His baseline endurance was exceptional, after all. He went on to win the state meet in the 880 with a time of 1:52 and ran for the University of Kentucky. I watched him run a leadoff 4:01 mile in a 4 X 1 Mile relay at Drake in 1979. As the Kaneland team played better as the season wore on, I felt good for my friend Ron Ackerman and my cross country teammate Kirk Kresse, who was a rebounding force on the inside game.

I was scoring and playing well enough for the sophomore squad that I started getting pulled up to Varsity practices right when the team was entering post-season play. But just as that tournament run was getting started, my father announced that we would be moving to St. Charles in the next month of so. Suddenly my Varsity call-up came to an end. But the Kaneland basketball team roared on to take second in the Class A state basketball tournament.

The Kaneland team that placed second in Class A basketball, 1973.
As a skinny sophomore, my flashy game in hoops was not always welcomed by basketball coaches.

While disappointing, that last-minute decision to leave me off the Kaneland varsity roster was actually quite reasonable to me. It was already crowded with good players that had earned those roster spots in support of the team all season. I’d only been participating in varsity practices a few weeks. My only triumph during that period was out-shooting a few of those players during jump shot practice. I was a good shooter and once made 29 free throws in a row at the Elburn Days Free Throw contest. That mark lasted from Friday all the way through Sunday when a former Kaneland and Illinois State player named Doug Witt shot something like 45 straight to take home the prize money. I was seriously pissed.

After the thrill of the Kaneland state tournament run, about which I felt a little jealous and disavowed, I began my weird journey as an expatriated Kaneland Knight. Our family moved that same week to a small home on 11th Avenue in St. Charles in February, 1973. That meant I still had half an academic year to finish, and Illinois High School Association rules stated that anyone transferring from one school to another during an academic year would lose a semester’s sports eligibility.

Saving grace

I painted this watercolor in my early 30s to describe the feeling of displacement from home.

From that day forward through the end of the school year, a group of Kaneland coaches alternated weeks picking me up at my house in St. Charles. That was truly an act of saving grace. Every morning I traveled the fifteen miles out to Kaneland High School for classes. My father apparently talked to the Athletic Director at Kaneland, Bruce Peterson, to work out a system where coaches George Birkett, Dennis Hendricks, Harold Anderson and Peterson delivered me to each day so that I would not miss any spring sports eligibility. What kindness! What patience! What teacher wants a snot-nosed fifteen-year-old in their car on the way to teach school?

The friends issue

There was some talk among my friends that my move from Kaneland to St. Charles was the product of recruitment by the St. Charles cross country and track coach, Trent Richards. He’d been a Kaneland student himself a few years before. At just 21 years old he coached the Elburn baseball team when I was thirteen. We’d had some early success together, and I was grateful for that. But there was no conversation between Trent and I, much less my father, about switching to St. Charles.

While I’d helped lead the Kaneland cross country program and done decently, but not spectacularly, in track and basketball, I wasn’t a good enough athlete to be recruited by anyone.

In fact, when I asked my father twenty-five years later why we moved to St. Charles during the early 1970s, he told me unequivocally, “I didn’t want your younger brother to play basketball for that slow-down offense at Kaneland.”

“What about me?” I retorted. “I was Class President and the one of the best runners on the team!”

“I knew you were a social kid,” he responded dryly. “I knew you’d survive.”

A real reason to move

To my father’s credit, he saw potential in my younger brother that would flourish to an All-State Honorable Mention in basketball. He helped lead the St. Charles team to the Sectional Superfinals in his Junior year. The St. Charles team played a mobile offense and my brother’s hieight of 6’6″ and a vertical leap of 36″ made him a dominant force inside. But he also had a soft left-handed jumper that was great from the perimeter. He was a basketball player ahead of his time in many respects.

With his jumping ability, he also made it downstate in high jump under the tutelage of coach Trent Richards. My brother went on to play hoops on a full scholarship with a Division 1 university in Ohio.

Our move from Kaneland to St. Charles proved to be a successful decision for our family in the long run. While my last few months at Kaneland were in many ways hectic, I’d simply traded the morning hour that I typically spent delivering papers in Elburn for riding to Kaneland for school. I recall my mother telling me, “You don’t have to take another job, Chris. You have enough to do right now.”

Little did I know that within a year of this photo, I’d be competing against these teammates.

It was a bit like attending a commuter school for the rest of that semester. I’d get there so early I should have spent time studying and kept up my grades. Instead, I’d often go out to practice long jump or high jump. I recall that one cool spring morning that I’d raked the long jump pit smooth and trotted back to line up for a jump. I felt a surge of energy in my legs and took off running. My foot hit the board perfectly and I felt a clean sensation flying through the air. Landing in the pit, my feet left a clean mark and I popped out with excitement only to realize that I had no way to measure the length of the jump. My best to that point was nineteen feet. Nothing to brag about. But what if I’d jumped twenty that morning? Some feats on sports are never to be known. And what does it actually matter?

I ran well enough in track that spring, dropping my mile time down to 4:42 at the Kane County meet. I recall that my future coach Trent Richards approached me carefully before the race to give me some pacing advice. He spoke so quickly that I didn’t actual understand what he was telling me. In any case, I set the sophomore record that day, a mark that would not last long as other Kaneland runners quickly surpassed it in the coming years. But given the circumstances of my quasi-year at Kaneland, I was happy to see improvement that spring hauling back and forth between towns to attend Kaneland those last few months.

Saying goodbye

My close friends were still suspicious of the supposed reasons for my move to St. Charles. I felt a distance grow between us as the year wound down. I kept trying to explain that my move had nothing to do with wanting to switch schools. I even told them, “I’m not good enough for anyone to recruit me.” At one point I even considered whether I should try to live with another family and finish high school at Kaneland. Grief and guilt had caught up to me. Also a bit of fear at the need to change my life all over again. It was a confusing time. I felt like I’d been jumping through hoops for months just to make life feel somehow normal again. I was ready to be done with it all.

The year closed with what felt like a bump and a clump. I walked out the doors of Kaneland High School that last day and took a look around, realizing that I’d never attend the school again. It felt weird. I felt a bit betrayed by the lack of trust that friends had shown me. Of course, they felt the same lack of trust toward me. For a fifteen-year-old kid, that was a ton pf social pressure to handle. All I could do was get in the car with a coach and ride away.

I missed my Kaneland friends, but the opportunity to make new friends would arrive quite quickly. Again, running would come to the rescue.

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50 Years of Running: A Coach is Born

Coach Born between Chris Cudworth and Bill Creamean circa 1972.

For closing insights on a fun and meaningful two years of cross country at Kaneland High School, I called up Coach Richard Born to discuss his coaching career with the program.

He started coaching Kaneland cross country in 1968. He was a science teacher at the school, and was approached by Kaneland track coach and athletic director Bruce Peterson to consider taking over the cross country program. That conversation likely generated from Born’s teaching association with another Kaneland legend, Harold Anderson, a chemistry teacher.

“We worked together in the science department,” Born recalled. “And I think he mentioned to Peterson that I might make a good coach.”

Born inherited a program in its infancy. He took it from a 4-4 record in its early stages to a 14-3 dual meet record and qualifying through districts for sectionals in just five years.

He laughed in recalling how the program was pretty basic at its beginning. “Back then, Coach Peterson would drive the kids in a truck out to County Line Road and tell them to run back. It was a lot quieter back then. You couldn’t do that nowadays.”

Born’s background in track was helpful in the early stages of his coaching career. It also helped that his sharp and clear voice could be heard at some distance, a benefit in the sport of cross country.

He recalled with pride the cross country course mapped out in Elburn Forest Preserve. “They manage it differently for wetlands now,” he noted. “So the course isn’t even possible any more.”

Elburn was a rugged and challenging course, a pure cross country experience if there ever was one. The opening mile with its increasingly steep hill, a trek through thick woods and a mile time near the entrance… was an immersion in every possible sensation related to running. The deep shade and changing leaves. The crunch of gravel underfoot. Emerging from the woods to hear the mile times called out….”5:10, 5:11…”

Coach Eddington, the team, and Coach Richard Born.

Born was ably assisted by assistant Coach Larry Eddington, a soft-spoken former miler whose running acumen was valuable in the coaching of high school kids. Together the two of them built a foundation for Kaneland cross country that has lasted for fifty years.

One of Born’s fondest memories is the first Little Seven Conference team victory in 1972. “It was basically dark when the meet finished,” Born recalled. “And we only beat Oswego by one point.”

His other favorite recollections center on the Kaneland Invitational, a meet that athletic director Bruce Peterson favored with Richard Born proposed it. A tremendous amount of resources and human helpers go into conducting a meet like that. Inviting the teams, organizing the race and having it be well received year-after-year is a reward that only coaches fully understand. Giving kids the opportunity to compete and grow from the experience is the principal benefit of coaching.

Rich Born did that really well. And while my family situation changed and we moved to another town and another school the winter after my sophomore year in cross country, I’ve always wanted to publicly thank Richard Born and Larry Eddington for the guidance and encouragement they gave all of us at Kaneland.

It was a strange feeling for me to go back to the Kaneland Invitational that next year and run against my former teammates. But they were on a mission of their own by then anyway. The Knights won the Little Seven Conference again the year after I departed. “We won it by a larger margin,” Born recalled.

It helped me realize that no one is irreplaceable. We all try to make our mark and then life rolls on. Life, and even death, awaits us no matter where we are. “A great man once told me that death smiles at us all,” says the Maximus character in the movie Gladiator, “All any man can do is smile back.”

At fifteen years old I had no idea what type of life lay ahead for me, or anyone. What I am grateful for is the smiles earned and given along the way. That was certainly the case in those early days of running. Smiles all around.

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50 Years of Running: That First Varsity Win

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

The prized varsity letter that adorned my letter jacket until it got worn out.

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.

Early successes

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.

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50 Years of Running: Predecessors

Fred Bateman: Capital for a Day 2014 – Photo by Ken Trombatore

In writing this biography about 50 years of running experience, I come to points where the story seems to broaden because it occurs to me that the circumstance into which I entered was different than I imagined or understood. That realization moved me to inquire about the life of a running predecessor at Kaneland high school named Fred Bateman.

I knew Bateman’s name because he was the best runner at Kaneland cross-country program before I entered as a freshman. My older brother had run on the team with Fred, but as brothers we didn’t really talk much about that year. We had just moved into town from Pennsylvania that summer and I was so preoccupied with my own social world that I didn’t really realize what my brother was doing that fall.

But once my father placed me in the cross-country program, I heard the name of Fred Bateman. You know how it is: the best runner lives on as a program legend to which the next generation should aspire. Had I known much more about Fred Bateman at the time, I would have seen a few parallels.

The Fred Bateman story

As a freshman and sophomore, Fred played running back for the football team. In other words, he followed a path that at one point I thought I’d follow. My father thought better of that and led me into the cross country program. At Kaneland, the football program was filled with big, tough, red-meat-eating kids. Despite my own wirey toughness I didn’t belong in that environment and my father knew it. None of his kids would play football because he disliked the idea of torn up joints and the often graceless nature of the sport.

For Fred, there were also family issues with which he contended from a young age. His immediate relatives had a “reputation” in the communities around Kaneland high school. The Batemans were not a favored clan, shall we say. In the face of all the family stuff impacting his early life, Fred acted up in grade school. “I was not a good kid,” he admitted.

While my own family wasn’t affected by community reputation back east when I was in elementary school, there were enough internal conflicts in our family that I also acted up during the late elementary school years. I spent a year starting fights and struggling through school. That was my way of dealing with social pressures.

Chip on the shoulder

By the time Fred reached high school, that chip on his shoulder had reduced some. But not entirely. Football was a good way to bang into people with permission. There was just one problem. One of the coaches for the program had a brutal attitude toward his players. During a school day, that coach saw Fred with his eyes closed at a desk. “I was concentrating,” he related. “But that guy thought I was sleeping.”

The coach shoved Fred out of his chair so hard that his head struck another desk. He’s fairly sure there was a concussion involved. He couldn’t see right for days, and had trouble remembering things. Despite that incident, Bateman showed up for football practice and kept performing well.

Bateman lasted another year in the football program and was good enough to be a running back for the varsity. By that time, he had serious misgivings about his future with the program. He was always a good runner in the endurance events in track and field, so he switched sports to cross country. “Plus, I liked Coach Born and Eddington,” he recalled.

Crazy advice

However, a Kaneland track coach had given him instructions on how to train that affected his ultimate success in high school. “He told me I needed to run ten miles in the morning every day before school,” he noted. “So that’s what I did. And five miles in the morning on meet days. Then I’d do the regular workouts with the rest of the team.”

The coach also told him he needed to run “like a gazelle.” “So I developed a habit of overstriding,” he admits. They nicknamed me “The Gazelle” for the way I ran.”

Bateman led the team his junior and senior years, setting the course record and building the early legacy of the cross-country program. “At one point Larry Eddington pulled me aside and explained that I didn’t need to run so much.

Academic success

Fred was doing well as a student through it all. Proof of his academic talent would take time to surface. With his grades and SAT scores both at high levels, especially in chemistry, he’d attracted the attention of the Ceramic Engineering program at the University of Illinois. But when the letters of invitation came to his home, someone in his household threw them away.

Finally, a Kaneland guidance counselor pulled Fred aside and got him lined up to attend Illinois on an ROTC scholarship. He enrolled and did well. Ultimately he decided to switch to Computer Science as a major.

College experiences

Along the way, Fred tried out for the track and field team as a sophomore. He wound up in a mile trial against some well-known names from the University of Illinois: Lee Labadie, Mike Durkin and Craig Virgin. All of them were world-class runners capable of Sub-4 in the mile. “They were all far faster than me,” he admitted. “But I ran a 4:11 or 4:12 behind them. I only beat one guy in that race.” He also ran a 9:17 two-mile in club meets.

Lee LaBadie in track and field.

His recollections of his running successes through college were mixed. “A coach finally told me to shorten my stride,” he confessed. “He also told me not to run so much,” Fred said with an ironic laugh. He recalls getting similar advice from a Geneva high school coach who met Fred and heard about his training during his career at Kaneland. The fact of the matter is that early advice often sticks, and some habits are hard to break.

Ultimately, Bateman turned his full attention to studies at Ilinois. His competitive running career at that point essentially came to an end. It did help him get through the social side of life. The tough little kid from the family with a “bad reputation” had to clear a few invisible hurdles in life. Some tripped him up a little, but not all.

Moilers

Learning about Fred’s journey made me think back to some of the perceptions I held going into high school, and how running helped me transition through that period in life. The summer before that first year in high school, there were rumors floating around that any freshmen who got “out of line” would get beat up on the spot. “Freshmen are Moilers,” an upper classman threatened me a few weeks before school started. I never looked up the term “moilers” until now, but back then it meant someone not worthy of respect.

Moiler: To exert one’s mental or physical powers, usually under difficulty and to the point of exhaustion.

The term “moiler” was a deep insult at the time. It was used as a form of class-related denigration to strike fear into kids entering high school. The dread was real enough that it served as a form of authoritarian control. Some of my present political leanings stem from experiences like that. I’m suspicious of anyone that leads with that style of communication. We see it at all levels of society, even to the top of our governmental institutions. It also wells up in deplorable fashion through culture wars.

When I think about the treatment Bateman received from that abusive football coach, and some of the social pressures he faced in that era, it makes me glad that society has put progressive social constructs in place to provide a more balanced and positive atmosphere in this world.

But there are no guarantees.

No guarantees

Just recently I read about an incident in an area football program in which a pair of freshman were held to the ground while older players shoved broomsticks up their anus. The school and courts both refused to call it “hazing” because it was not technically described as a “rite of passage.” The euphemism of law is one of the most damaging of all constructs in society.

Initially, these football players received deferential treatment in the face of abuse allegations.

There have been other reported incidents of such treatments over the last five years. In 2016 five Wheaton College players were accused and ultimately punished for their violent abuse of a fellow player. All this all took place at an institution that calls itself a Christian college. The college initially defended the football players before accepting the testimony of the victim. That illustrates why I’ve written a book titled “Honest-To-Goodness: Helping Christianity Find Its True Place in the World.” People too often find excuses to abuse positions of power and authority in this life, and that includes religion.

Protecting civility and social justice

It takes vigilance, perseverance, and courage to protect civility in every culture on earth. Some dismiss early childhood and high school experiences as having no harmful or long-term effects, but they are wrong. Just this week, it was announced that the case in which a former high school wrestler that was supposed to receive $3.5M in a hush money settlement with ex-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is coming to trial. The name of the defendant will likely be revealed as part of the testimony, and that seems a shame. Hastert rose to a position of great power in this country while keeping his abusive nature a dark secret. He was long depicted as this likable, friendly “coach” that rose to political success from humble roots. It was a nice story. But it wasn’t fully true.

People like Hastert destroy lives whiles imposing their will upon the world. That defendant will now have to relive his experiences and have his name made public fifty years after the incidents took place. I would argue that America is itself damaged by the corrupt nature of men like Dennis Hastert. It seems that the higher these abusers rise in society, the harder it is to hold them accountable.

I met my own share of dismissive or emotionally abusive teachers along the way, but for the most part, I was lucky. I’m thankful that there are still so many people of good influence in this world. I’m grateful to have largely experienced encouragement from teachers, coaches and others in leadership roles. That’s a big reason why I’m writing this series 50 Years of Running.

At the same time, experiences of loss and fear and injustice are just as formative as the wins and moments of acceptance and triumphs. As they say, “That’s life.” And as I say, “It is important to talk about it.”

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