The track team won the conference. Pretty simple words that cannot begin to tell this story. This one is worthy of a Disney movie script. The characters are complex, but fun. They struggle, but never give up, and in the end, they emerge victorious on the biggest stage.
This story does not begin on Thursday May 9th 2019. Believe it or not, this story begins 5 years ago at the Vermilion Invitational, before any member of this team was even in high school. It was a cold spring night, and for the first time all season, both the boys and girls teams were in contention coming into the last event. Those of you who follow high school track know that the 4×400 is always the final race of the night, and this one was tight. I can very clearly remember our kids running across the football field, encouraging their teammates to run faster, push harder, and pass just one more kid. It was the beginning of a change, one that a good friend says is “transitioning from a track team to a track program” but I would describe as going from a track team to a track family. Coach Landis and I were thrilled! Both teams left with trophies that night, and three weeks later we had 7 kids competing in the regionals, two of whom were freshmen.
Fast Forward. Year 2. Coach Ruble and Coach Markovich joined the staff; Ruble finds a gem of a hurdler and Markovich converts the throwers into a powerhouse. The girls team starts to take root as a talented bunch, setting a few school records along the way. The boys team finds its footing with a nice senior group and an upstart sophomore sprinter who finds a way to make the regionals in the 800, an event he had only taken up a few weeks before. Both teams surprise at the PAC meet with top 3 finishes. More kids make it to regionals. The thought actually enters our mind….could we contend for a championship?
Jump ahead to year 3. Win the PAC we say. Believe it can be done, we tell them. The boys fall back due to the youth movement, but the now-junior sprinter was our first District Champion and record setting 400 runner. The girls were strong–we thought this was the team to do it–we had sprinters, we had throwers, we had hurdlers. We finished 3rd, only 2 points from a championship. It was heartbreaking, but with most of the team back, year 4 was going to be it! Even more kids make regionals.
Year 4–OUR TURN! The two freshmen who had been so close to state were now seniors. We had a freshman standout distance runner. Our throwers were the best in the area. Our hurdler couldn’t be beat. But something was missing. We struggled to find the right relays, our times weren’t so great, our effort was low, and morale was not so good. We had not recovered from the sting of coming up short the year before. A team meeting changed everything, and has become the calling card of our program. Coach Markovich brought in a picture of a buffalo, and explained that the difference between a cow and a buffalo is that a cow tries to run away from a storm, and therefore gets stuck in it; a buffalo charges into the storm and goes right through it. It was a great metaphor for track kids, and has become a mantra for all of us in the program…..”I gotta buffalo this last lap and then we can go”…..”who’s gonna be a buffalo and put the tent away when the meet is over.” Both teams take off. The boys surprise everyone but themselves with a 3rd place finish at conference, and the senior sprinter is our first boy to state. The girls score high each meet and are primed for a championship. We come up short again, this time only 1 point from hoisting the trophy! The seniors cried. I cried. We bounced back with our first girl making it to Columbus. But with the seniors gone, the hopes of championships faded.
Year 5–You know how it ends. They say in track program building there are 4 distinct stages:
- Learning how to play–the rules, basic skills, order of events, how to hand-off…etc.
- Learning to compete–technique, drive, leaning at the finish, form on the throws…etc
- Learning to win–working a s a team, promoting strengths, covering weaknesses, monitoring points…etc.
- Learning to win championships
The apt comparison for us was the University of Tennessee football team in the late 1990’s. They had Peyton Manning, maybe the best QB ever, but they kept coming up short when championships were on the line. They finally broke through–the year after he graduated. The rest of the team was just not ready for step 4 until then. That was this girls team. The boys are great, winning several trophies this season and having an amazing run at PAC to wind up 3rd, but these girls took it to another level. Some of the stories will long be told:
-Jordyn Shawver tears her ACL in the fall, bounces back to get on the podium twice at the conference meet
-Brielle Tran also tears her ACL, makes the finals in her first hurdles of the season, then proceeds to finish in the top 5 two days later
-Jessica Gower sets a PR in the 300 Hurdles that is nearly 4 seconds faster than she had ever run before
-Hanna Trowbridge gets 6th in the Pole Vault, despite never having cleared a starting height ever before
-Heaven Vanzant scores in 4 events, including second in the long jump her freshman year
-Alicia Fike runs a nearly perfect race to win the 3200 for the second year in a row, setting a new school record on the way
-The 4×100 and 4×200, despite being seeded to finish 6th and 5th respectively, end up on the podium in 3rd with new PR’s
-Three girls from the varsity softball team (seniors Myra Richter and Jaylynne Murphy as well as freshman Jenna Rothman) all make big contributions with the meet on the line
-The throwers stand out as usual (Lauren Sheehan 1st in shot, 3rd in Discus, Ellexis Tracy 3rd and 4th)
-The 4×400 PR’d by nearly 12 seconds to finish a surprising 4th
I think the lasting memories for me, though will be these:
- Mackenzie Mastroianni pushing herself so hard to try to get points in the 800 that her legs gave out, and Coach Ruble actually had to carry her
- The reaction when the announcer said “and in second place………Buckeye” because our kids knew that meant we were champs. Girls came running from every direction. Just as impressive to me was the sight of our boys and how excited they were for their family members, knowing what it took for them to break through.
It was an amazing experience, one that we will look to repeat next year in the new LC8 Conference meet a year from now. Word cannot express the thanks to each of our supporters, from bus drivers, maintenance workers, to the dedicated teachers at BHS who help so much and are so supportive, and our amazing parents who follow us each step of the way. A special thanks to our amazing group of coaches–Kevin Landis with the distance kids (but who is also our voice of reason and event predictor extraordinaire) Bob Markovich with the throwers (and team zen master/master motivator) and Eric Ruble, whose title is head girls track coach, but who works with all of our hurdlers and high jumpers and is responsible for so much more. Eric is the one who has to calm the rest of us down two or three times a week, and his caring for the athletes is beyond measure. And to the kids. WOW, did you girls Buffalo the heck out of that meet. AWESOME. Could not be more proud of how you prepared yourselves and attacked that meet from start to finish.
title–head boys coach
real job–the one who yells a lot and tweets the results from each meet.