Delayed cheer part of track's dynamicMay 14, 2013
By JOHN PATISHNOCK
Herald Sports Writer
Imagine, for a second, the following scenario: Your favorite baseball, basketball or football team advances beyond sectional, except nobody celebrates.
Instead, everybody retreats to the team bus — the athletes don’t even have a locker room — and simply go home.
Welcome to track and field.
Granted, the winning squad typically completes a victory lap around the field, but not every competitor who registers a regional-qualifying performance receives a trophy or is surrounded by excited teammates. Some kids advance, others don’t. And when they all share a bus ride home, it sometimes causes a delayed act of exuberance.
“I kind of waited until I got home,” said Southridge senior Grace Maxey, who advanced in the 100 hurdles last year. “When I entered the door of my house, it was like, ”˜Yeah!’”
Things work differently in track, an individualistic sport that takes place within a team concept.
Despite being slotted into their own events with their own goals, athletes are still keen on seeing their teammates succeed. That’s why Maxey felt it better to wait and not make matters worse for teammates who couldn’t relate to her excitement.
“We’re a girls team and we’re sensitive,” Maxey said. “You don’t like to lose. We’re really competitive and I think that’s what makes us a good team.”
Jasper senior Jaclyn Schmitt qualified for regional last year in the pole vault, contributing to the Wildcats’ second consecutive sectional title. Still, that didn’t mean Jasper’s entire team earned the right to compete at regional. It’s a unique dynamic, especially for someone like Schmitt, who’s been a back-line player for the last two Jasper volleyball squads that advanced to the semistate final.
“It’s encouraging knowing that some of your teammates are also moving on so it’s exciting that you get to see people advance and just keep getting better,” Schmitt said. “But it’s also tough because you’re losing some of your teammates. It’s not like volleyball where if the team loses, everybody’s done.”
Jasper coach Dean Jerger said he’s never seen an athlete become inconsolable after falling short of her sectional goals. “I’m sure they’re disappointed, but I don’t know why that is,” he said. He acknowledged it’s usually easier for underclassmen to accept, given their careers haven’t ended, but it’s still hard to judge.
“It totally depends on the kid,” Jerger said. “Some of them take it more personally, some of them don’t. Some of them are just looking forward to going to college and moving on to the next step.”
There are other experiences. Southridge coach Elaine Main made an Are you kidding me? expression when asked if she’s ever had to console kids who emotionally crumble.
“Some kids take it terribly hard when they don’t advance and yeah, I’ve had plenty of kids cry because they didn’t make it,” Main said.
“I definitely have had some girls break down and they’re emotional,” Forest Park coach Rachel Hinson added. “Not only do they feel like they’re letting themselves down, but they feel like they’re letting the team down.
“You have to look at the positives; there’s bound to be some positives even in that situation.”
This last point is crucial for coaches, not just now but for the entire season.
Jerger and Main said they take time in each practice the day following a meet to recognize individuals who reached a personal-best or any other accomplishment to which kids can relate. And Hinson noted the Ranger boys and girls teams planned a movie night and a team dinner before the sectional meets this week to recognize what everyone on the team has achieved this year. Just because an athlete failed to advance doesn’t mean her season hasn’t been a success.
“Being an individual sport, you have to have something to motivate you, and reaching your new, better times should motivate,” Jerger said. “Whether or not they move on or not, or score points or not, that’s something I always try to focus on.”
“Whether it turns out in your favor or not, we don’t have any control over, but it’s the effort that we appreciate,” Main added. “As long as they have done their best, they usually go out feeling proud of themselves and ready to move on.”
Helping to soften the blow is that everyone on the team is still invited, or actually encouraged, to continue attending practice and even ride on the team bus to regional. Familiarity helps breed desired results.
“We want them there because we want to keep that balance for the kids who go on because they’re used to that person riding with them on the bus, keeping them even-keel,” Northeast Dubois coach Tammy Schulthies said.
This process began last week, as teams began preparing for their conference meets, where only two kids per school can enter an event. Forest Park finished second in the Pocket Athletic Conference meet, higher than expected, and senior Mackenzie Weyer noted the kids yelling the loudest weren’t necessarily the ones competing.
“It’s a good feeling because they cheer you on even though they don’t get to do anything,” Weyer said. “The ones that weren’t in an event were the most excited, they were happy to be a part of it. We still cheer and have fun because it’s a great experience for everyone.”
And for the most part, athletes know where they fit in. As Schulthies said, the times and distances they need to beat are “right there in black and white.” But that doesn’t mean the unexpected can’t happen. That’s one way how track is still the same as any other sport.
“Anything can happen on any given night,” Hinson said. “So even if on paper you’re (supposed) to finish seventh, you just never know what’s going to happen.”
Contact John Patishnock at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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