2013.11.06 A good day at the finals


"I really love this day."

That was Scott Sullivan speaking, hurriedly lugging an enormous lens attached to the front of his camera. We were walking off the infield at Michigan International Speedway and entering the parking area in back. Scott was heading for the media van; I was finished and heading home.

It's an annual ritual: the Michigan high school cross country finals. It's been annual for me most years recently. Morenci has had at least one runner qualify for most of the past decade or so—for as long as the event has been at MIS.

Cross county finals weekend started off Friday night when my wife and I went to Adrian. Colleen needed new running shoes—for walking, that is—and we bought a pair at Running with E's. Then we walked across the street for dinner at Sauce and encountered an odd scene. Nearly all of the tables in the back room had been moved into three long lines, filled with high school students wearing warm-up gear and T-shirts with slogans such as "Sole Sisters." That was the Beal City girls team. They fortified themselves with dinner at Sauce, then went to the speedway the next day and became the state champions among the small schools.

I don't know how Sauce became the cross country venue, but there were teams from three schools eating when we arrived. They finished, the table were cleared and rearranged, and a new set of schools arrived. I suppose they want to fill up on pasta instead of McDonald's.

I think it was the Beal City coach who addressed his crew with something like this: "The Boosters are giving $12 for each of your dinners. Don't go crazy ordering a lot of appetizers." Send your kids to Sauce. That's one kind booster group.

Driving in and out of rain the next morning on my way to MIS, I said to myself, "Just watch. The sun will be shining at the one-mile mark."

Newspaper photographers are driven around the course to take photos near the start, at the one and two mile marks, and at the finish line. Mile One is always a waste because the sun is in the background and faces are lost in shadow. Saturday, however, it had some possibility. 

The van ride is always interesting. I sat next to Mike Warner from the Homer Index and I immediately recognized Scott Sullivan when he climbed in. Many of the faces are familiar year after year, but I don't know the people.

Scott was there taking photos for a little weekly newspaper like Mike and I were, but weekly guys don't carry lenses that are as big around as a grown man's thigh. Scott and others there were also getting photos for magazines and websites. I think Scott mentioned "Runner's World" among his chores for the day.

We stopped down a ways from the starting line and I actually saw Morenci's two girls, Mariah Gillen and Tatyana Pless. It's such a mass of runners at that point. Then it was back in the van and hurrying on toward Mile One. There was a break in the clouds. It was almost sunshine, faces darkening. Of all the places for that to happen, said someone back in the van, it had to be Mile One.

There's a mad dash to get back on board before the van leaves. You can't wait around for a slower runner. After the first 50 or 60 pass, the van will be off to Mile Two.

I'm still trying to puzzle out how the conversation turned to the SDS between Mile Two and the finish. It was a veteran photographer who for some reason mentioned knowing Alan Haber, the founder of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). And then it veered to Tom Hayden, another University of Michigan graduate and SDS member. I finally turned around and said, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

By then we were entering the race track for the final jaunt to the finish. I'm sure that distracted the younger photographers from their puzzlement, wondering what these old guys were talking about.

Our driver only got the speed up to 60 mph. He could have done better. It was only a van load of media people without seat belts.

The race ended and it was time to start over again, this time looking for Morenci's Reagan Stowell.

As Scott said, I love this day.