Story Time: Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Me (Part 5)
This is part five in a series of stories I like to tell about my life. Links to the first four parts are at the bottom of this page.
I’ve always believed I was cheated out of a chance to become state champion in the mile run
I don’t have regrets in life. I try to learn from my mistakes, but I never want to go back in time in order to change outcomes from the past. The way I see it, if I could go back and change one thing – no matter how minor - my life would have taken a different path, and that thought scares me to death. A different path would necessarily mean that I would not have the same people in my life that I do now. I am content to live with all of the mistakes and all of the pain of the past. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Having said that, one seemingly-small thing has always haunted me.
I think I should have become state high school champion in the mile run. I am haunted because I have always felt that I was cheated out of the chance to do so. And yes, a portion of it is that I cheated myself out of a chance. But I don’t just blame myself.
The central event in this story occurred during my junior year of high school. There is more to the story, both before and after this event, but this is the event which has always haunted me.
This occurred in the regional meet, which is the competition that determines who qualifies for the state meet. With only a half-lap to go, I caught up with the leader. We were the only two with a realistic chance of winning the race. He was running in the second lane, so I had an opening in the inside lane as I made my move. I decided to pass him on the inside, and as I pulled even, he suddenly reached over with his left foot and deliberately spiked me. It knocked me down –actually, I fell completely off the track. By the time I recovered, I managed to finish the race tied for 5th place.
I expected the runner who spiked me to be disqualified. At the finish line, however, no mention was made of the incident. He was declared the winner, and if my memory is correct he went on to become the state champion. Coach Parman congratulated me on my performance. I met the expectations he had set for me.
The spiking incident occurred on the opposite side of the track from where all spectators were located. Nobody had seen what had happened, so it wouldn’t have helped if I had complained. There was no videotape to review in those days. Nobody saw it, so it didn’t matter. The subject was never spoken about. I didn’t bring it up.
I truly believe I would have won the state title if I had not been spiked during that qualifying run.
I was still inexperienced at distance running. I wasn’t even the best miler on my track team. That honor belonged to Don Edwards. Edwards was a senior; I was a junior. My specialty had been the two-mile run. I was just as inexperienced in the two-mile, but I had beaten more-experienced runners with good reputations in that event. Someone – Edwards or Parman, I was never told who – decided that we should switch events for the regional meet. I ran the mile, and Edwards ran the two-mile. Don Edwards was a senior, and he felt that, given the competition, he had a better chance of winning the two-mile than the mile.
I had never beaten Don Edwards in any race. He was the best miler, but he was also the best two-miler. I never beat him in any of the many runs to the cemetery during practice (anybody who attended North Harrison High School in Eagleville knows about running to the cemetery). I never beat him in any of the thousands of wind sprints we ran to get into shape under Coach Parman.
As it turned out, the same runner who spiked me also ran the two-mile race. He beat me in the mile, and he beat Edwards in the two-mile.
I might have been second best on my team, but I still believe I would have won the state meet. I was inexperienced, but I was getting better. I had learned my strengths and weaknesses, and I was – on my own in addition to what I did at school as a member of the team – training for the purpose of being the best. I had it all planned out in my mind. I believed I had a winning formula. I was going to be state champion.
It should be noted, though, that the spiking incident did NOT disqualify me from running in the state meet. I did qualify to go to state. My 5th place finish was good enough to qualify. I could have continued with my training as planned. If I had chosen to compete, I still think I would have won.
But I chose not to go to state that year. During a training run to the cemetery, Don Edwards pulled me over and informed me that all the seniors who qualified for state decided not to compete in the state meet. I was the only non-senior who qualified. Edwards offered to help me train if I wanted to go all the way to Columbia as the only competitor from our school. As much as I hated the idea of forfeiting the opportunity, it didn’t seem right to me for North Harrison to pay for a trip to Columbia for one junior who barely qualified, while qualifying seniors stayed home.
That was my choice. I would have made a different choice if I had qualified as the winner of the regional race, if I hadn’t been spiked; it would have made sense for the school to send a regional champion to compete for the state championship.
I was a junior that year. I still had my senior year to accomplish my goals. I spent the following summer training for the purpose of becoming a state champion. I spent many hours running in the cow pastures behind Grandma Marguerite’s house.
But by the time track season came around during my senior year, I made the choice not to compete in track at all. This was my choice to make. Coach Parman did not stick around for my senior year. He left North Harrison for a better offer, and was replaced by Coach Anderson. Coach Anderson was different. I was barely able to put up with him for an entire basketball season. Once basketball season was over, I decided I was through.
Coach Anderson didn’t pick on me. I didn’t have any more problems with him than the other players on the team. But problems did exist, and they were real problems. I didn't agree with the way he prepared our team for games. I didn't agree with his inconsistent disciplinary methods. I didn't agree with the way he reacted to situations during games. I didn't agree with his after-game assessments of our team's performances. I didn't agree with his methods for grading individual player performances.
So I decided I was through with varsity athletics, before the start of track season. I would never have a chance to become state champ in the mile run. This was my choice. I didn’t make it lightly.
I only owned one pair of track shoes in high school. After I was spiked, one of my shoes had a large gash across the top. I saved those shoes for several years as a reminder of what happened – and what I believe might have happened.
One side note: I mentioned that I was never able to beat Don Edwards in track, not even during any of the many runs in practice. Don Edwards and I also played the same position in basketball. He was first team All-State. I was our team’s second-stringer at the same position, going up against him every day in practice. He once told me that I was the toughest opponent he ever faced. I thought he was giving me a complement, until he added, “not because you are that good, but because you have the sharpest elbows.” And yes, we were friends.
This is part five in a series of stories I like to tell about my life. Here are links to the first four parts:
I performed on stage with Bob Hope
I held up a flight leaving La Guardia Airport in New York
I played basketball with Bruce Jenner
I huddled with the Kansas City Chiefs throughout one game
I was the star of the Missouri Boys’ State talent show
I was filmed in a hit movie with Danny DeVito
I was chased by a bear in the mountains
I was trapped in earthquake damage
I provided key evidence in the largest court case resulting from the stock market crash of 1987