High school track and field can be the pits 2015.06.03


Reading about the nine Morenci track team members who made it to State put me in mind of my own high school athletic pursuits.

I ran track—back in the days when distance was measured in yards. Even today, I still think of the races in yards, especially the ones I ran, the 50-yard dash, 100-yard dash, the 440-relay, the grueling 880-relay which I sometimes was corralled into running. 

There was a short time that I ran the hurdles...or maybe the coach thought I should run the hurdles, but I didn’t really. I remember my friend Kay did. She swears that the injury she incurred tripping over a hurdle back in 1976 still causes her pain today.

I was not a fan of the hurdles, and I really cringed when my daughter Rosie ran them, but I loved the long jump. It seemed the closest I’d ever come to flying which, as a kid, I had always wished I could do. I was pretty proud of myself in the long jump, but I don’t think I ever officially jumped much more than 14 and a half feet. One time I jumped 15’ 2” in practice, but practice doesn’t get you any cigars—or points. 

I used to run and jump barefoot because my sneakers felt so bulky. I think track shoes or running cleats probably existed back in those ancient times, but we were too poor to even think about asking for them. I don’t recall pining for them, though; I felt so free running barefoot. 

After running in Pro-Keds, barefoot running felt like a bird flying. It’s that same feeling I would get as a kid taking off my bathing suit when we arrived home after a long day at Orchard Beach rolling in the sand and ocean, followed by two long bus rides sitting in a sand-filled bathing suit. Standing in the shower after peeling off the suit, rinsing off all that was the nearest thing to ecstasy—interrupted by a sibling who wanted to take a shower.

It wouldn’t have been my sister Linda—she would have gotten in the shower first. Linda would have been a track star if she had been on the team—if the school had had a team. She was lightning fast, the fastest girl on the block; she even beat some of the boys. But she went to the bad district high school we were zoned for in the Bronx. 

I had heard such scary tales growing up about the toughness of James Monroe High School—crime, drugs, and big-time bullying, I’m sure—I was definitely certain I didn’t want to go there. Linda somehow persevered her high school years and made it out alive.

I went to John Bowne High School in Flushing, Queens, for its agriculture program (One of the most wonderful things about New York City is its specialized high schools). It wasn’t foolproof in the drugs and violence department (we had security guards), but at least it had a track team. 

Sports for girls wasn’t an option at James Monroe when Linda attended three years earlier than when I went to high school—Title I apparently hadn’t made an impact in the Bronx. But at Bowne, we had girls volleyball, gymnastics, bowling, and judging by the photo in my yearbook—at least one girl was on the swim team which I didn’t remember even existed—in addition to track.

We had nearly 40 clubs and teams at my high school, not counting the Noble and Semi-holy Knights of the Round Table Club, the Owl Stretching Team (“...has six members: Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Michael (alias Bruce…“), the Cutting Team (“The main purpose of the Cutting Team is to get out of as many classes as possible throughout the week without getting caught by the dean. This is only practice. They also compete against other schools…”), the Smiling Team, and the Varsity Head-Drilling Team.

There are surprises like that throughout my yearbook—photos of non-existent teams and clubs, a four-page spoof on American history, a photo of one teacher, “Sigmund von Poopsky; Ceramics” holding a human skull, and another, “Lance Romance; Poise and Charm.”

But other than team photos and one random shot of a bare-chested boy throwing a basketball in the hoop, there are absolutely no sports photos in the entire 216-page yearbook. Different priorities at John Bowne...which I guess is a good thing— there’s no embarrassing yearbook photo of my big bare feet jumping in a sand pit.