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Deja vu...but not really.



This past weekend I went to the Iowa High School state cross country meet, one that I haven't been to since 1969. Back then there was no girls meet, none of the schools offering the opportunity to females. Boys scored three runners (the sport wasn't very popular) so team totals were quite low, squad depth not as important as it is with today's five scorers.


My senior year at City High we drove to the championship competition race morning, a hotel room not a remote consideration despite the two hour and thirty minute drive to Ames. Our consolation was that we rode in Chick's (yes, that's what our coach went by) Cadillac, the five of us easily fitting into space that could have transported the basketball starters and two reserves.


At Veenker Golf Course we dropped our bags under a random sycamore tree, the ground still wet from the previous night's rainfall, everyone's old cotton sweats absorbing the moisture as we laid around and relaxed.


No one "chilled" back then.


The two-mile course was lined with blue, red, and yellow flags, the ground already trampled from the previous races - ours the second to last of seven classes. It was fine with me because the early races saved us from remembering what the flag colors meant and when to turn.


Our team warmup ended at the course finish line, the five chutes for this meet the most I'd ever seen, our qualifying competition relying only three. Chick mentioned they would be using numbered popsicle sticks - just as they had used all season for team scores - reminding us to hand them back to the officials at the end of the chutes.


I seem to remember finishing 12th, my sub-10:30 not enough to get me an All-State medal. :(


It would take at least 45 minutes after each race for the scores to be manually tallied - enough time for everyone to get in a cool down, the chance to change into into some dry clothing, and for a few narcoleptics, a short nap. As we waited for the call to the presentation area Chick was already fielding questions about where we would eat after the ceremony. A concern about finishing in the top five was secondary.


Finally, officials called us over and our squad gathered at the side of the AAA award platform as they announced the top ten finishers, daggers shooting from my eyes at the first two athletes called up on the small stage - both of whom sprinted past me the last fifty yards into the chutes. The thought still makes me mad. Our team finished 8th.


Last weekend wasn't the Iowa HS championship I remembered.


Fifty-four years later, I sat in my car behind two charter buses waiting to get into the parking lot at the state meet in Ft. Dodge, to the left team tents in a multitude of colors lining the starting area - a few with tables which held fruit, energy bars, and bottles of water - a couple sites with propane space heaters pointed inside the tents to keep the athletes warm.


The entire 5K route was marked with two parallel white lines, officials sitting in golf carts at every intersection, a Gator waiting at the starting line to make sure runners didn't get lost after the gun fired. Athletes wore dri-fit undershirts, stocking hats with the team's logo, $100 spikes in lime green, orange, and pink, their fancy gloves much better than the socks we put on our hands.


Throughout the race spectators got intermediate scores as each team's top 5 crossed timing mats, a continual accounting of the top ten runners by the meet announcer, and mile splits for every runner immediately available on cell phones. Even without running around the course, you could hear what was happening - as though you were listening to a radio.


There were no finish chutes, only timing mats to run across, live team scores popping up on the digital scoreboard, the FinishLynx providing times which could be located on cell phones in seconds. Heck, the meet was run so efficiently their award ceremony could have begun once the last finisher crossed the white line and the race winners were still sweating.


Some teams had post-race picnics set up just outside tents, other squads going out for wings at B-Dubs, burritos at Chipotle, or pasta at Olive Garden. There were schools who picked up pizzas and ate them on the charter bus, falling asleep in comfy seats before they got home. It seemed they were all treated like kings and queens.


It was amazing how times have changed.


Yet for all the great experiences today's squads get - team tents, cool uniforms, the wonderful championship festivity, and exciting food - that day, back in 1969, we got one thing today's youth will never have the chance to enjoy. We got to eat our post-race meal at Marc's Big Boy. Neato!


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