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OPINION: Making tracks no matter the weather

It's the first weekend of April, and that means outdoor track season has reached South Dakota. I'm writing this just ahead of the weekend, but I checked the weekend forecast for Mitchell. It looks mostly sunny, 50s one day and maybe 70 the next. ...

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It's the first weekend of April, and that means outdoor track season has reached South Dakota.

I'm writing this just ahead of the weekend, but I checked the weekend forecast for Mitchell. It looks mostly sunny, 50s one day and maybe 70 the next. That's track weather in this state. Some significant wind is in the forecast. That's track weather, too, in South Dakota.

As I write, I can hear the rain falling on the roof. A breeze blows a scattering of raindrops against the window now and then. It reminds me of the morning in 1959 when I woke to the light drumming of rain and wondered if we were going to have a track meet, our first of the season.

A high-school freshman, I had qualified for the varsity track team at Chamberlain and was scheduled to long jump and anchor the mile-relay team at the Pierre Legion Relays later that rainy morning. I had no idea how to act at a track meet. We didn't have a track in Chamberlain. We practiced by running around the inside of the baseball field. I had no idea what kind of times I was running. And I'd never once taken even a half-hearted leap on the long-jump runway, but somehow I got entered in that event at the last minute.

Making the varsity track squad didn't require extraordinary talent, even for a freshman, in those days. Track and field events were foreign to Chamberlain kids - not as foreign as soccer or ice hockey, but not like baseball, either. We read about them in the sports agate of The Daily Republic now and then or saw grainy, black-and-white clips from the Summer Olympics every four years. My first couple of years in high school, in fact, some of the coaches of other sports had to gently nudge their athletes to go out for track by threatening to keep them off the football or basketball team if they didn't. The technique added numbers to the track roster. It didn't necessarily make for a motivated squad.

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Turned out, I loved track. Got to be kind of a nut about it. Learned the times and heights and distances in events from high school to Olympics. Never got good enough to win an event at the state meet, but I got to go there a couple of times, and I got to watch and meet kids good enough to win events there. I even came to think of the 440-yard dash-what folks today call the 400 meters-as a great race to run, which shows how totally nuts I was about the sport.

Remembering that first meet (of course we ran the meet, rain or shine, even though all-weather tracks were years and years away), I think of wind-driven sleet, low-hanging clouds and puddles of water soaking the cinders. I fouled all but one attempt in the long jump. I don't know the distance of my one legal jump, but I remember how the soggy sand in the pit scraped the backs of my thighs as I landed. I must not have been a natural. I never jumped again in a meet.

I remember how the team staked out a small area of the infield for our gym bags and such. We didn't have a team tent like schools today. We sat on the wet grass or stood in a huddled mass in blowing sleet. The seniors had CHS Cubs parkas, property of the football team. The rest of us had sweatshirts and sweatpants. The sweatshirts came without hoods. They weren't water-repellent. They were flannel or something, and they soaked up the rain faster than the cinders did. We shared spiked running shoes. A guy could get pretty anxious if the final call came for his event and the guy who was wearing his shoes was nowhere to be found. We didn't have phones on the infield. We didn't have cameras and we didn't listen to music through headsets.

It was all pretty primitive, come to think of it. We should have been miserable. I guess we were too busy having fun.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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