WOSTER: Rain, snow, sleet and track
The Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz'' says, upon being awakened by a surprise snow storm after falling into a drug-induced (Wicked Witch-induced) slumber in a field of poppies, "Unusual weather we're having, ain't it?''
He might have been talking about spring of 2013 in South Dakota. I've heard many words used to describe the weather in the past few months. "Unusual'' hasn't been one of the more frequent ones, but it fits.
I'm not complaining about moisture, you understand. I grew up in the dry-land farming country just west of the Missouri River. We took rain or snow when it came, knowing there'd be long stretches when it would not come. I found myself conflicted when the morning of my daughter's wedding dawned to a bleak sky and falling rain, and I almost couldn't bring myself to say, "I wish it would clear up before the ceremony.''
A couple of signs of how unusual the weather is this year? The Corn Palace Relays were canceled a couple of weeks ago. So were the Pierre Legion Relays last week. Are you kidding me? Those were two of my favorite meets as a high school runner. Rain, snow or wind, Chamberlain ran in those two meets each spring.
When I ran in the Corn Palace Relays half a century ago, the meet drew some of the biggest crowds and largest number of schools and competitors of any track event short of the annual state meet. It was a big deal. I suppose if you sat in the stands and watched, you saw a lot of heats of a lot of events in a lot of different classes. Out on the infield warming up, I just saw hundreds of other athletes, most of whom I figured would beat me if they were in my heat of any event.
Weather during the Corn Palace Relays I recall was usually favorable. Oh, sometimes the evening sessions were chilly enough for the heavy hooded sweatshirt and baggy sweat pants that were Chamberlain's warm-up uniform in those days. We didn't have the silky, matching tops and pants, but the gray in the sweatshirt and sweatpants coordinated well -- within the range of color fading that came with multiple launderings.
My junior season, the afternoon session was a perfect running day. The temperature was about 68, the sun shone warmly and the breeze was just a tease. I cranked home first in my opening leg of the medley relay (back when the quarter-mile opened that event). One of Chamberlain's throwers told me later I'd beaten kids from Washington High and Rapid City. That didn't happen often for me. I was pumped. I couldn't wait for the evening session and the mile relay to give it another shot. By late evening, the wind was kicking dust, debris and discarded programs across the infield, and it was cold. Less pumped, I brought the baton home fifth or sixth.
In those years, the Pierre Legion Relays came early in April, often accompanied by sleet, wind and sometimes snow squalls. My freshman year, the coaches let me try the long jump. I'd never done that before. I didn't have a clue. I can't tell you with any certainty whether I actually recorded a legal jump. I anchored the mile relay in a sleet storm. We weren't first, but we beat somebody, and we each received a green ribbon for sixth spot. I don't have the ribbon, but I don't forget it, either.
Crushed cinders formed the surface of the tracks in both Mitchell and Pierre. Chamberlain didn't have a track. We practiced on the baseball field, a rough quarter-mile if a guy hugged the fence all the way down the first-base line, across the back of the outfield, down the third-base line and clear to the backstop behind home plate. A drinking fountain (a pipe sticking out of the ground with a faucet) was near the home-team dugout. The faucet leaked, so the closing sprint was through a mud puddle.
I thought cinders were God's gift to runners. I'd have thought I'd been called home to glory if I'd run just once on an all-weather track.