Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chapter 8: The Paden City 3 Mile Fun Run

My First Road Race…

Shortcuts, Cheating and Spotting “The Man to Beat”

(Left: Cliff and Mike Taylor after their sweep of the 1975 Paden City Fun Run...Matt and Vernon joined them as my 4 brothers finished in the top 8 over-all)

As I've mentioned many experiences impacted and helped shape my career as a distance runner. Most of the situations and lessons that became driving forces behind my running carried over into shaping my coaching philosophy. Some of my life lessons had more of an impact than others but there are those that many would deem inconsequential yet they became a lasting epiphany for me. My four brothers were typically patient in educating me. They shared the wisdom they learned through athletics and each related this savoir-faire with me in a slightly different way. The things that influence a young kid or child often go unnoticed by the surrounding adults. I realized early on that someone is always paying attention and watching our actions. Now as a parent I understand even more how young people and children are influenced. You may not think they are paying attention, but they are. They are watching, learning, listening and being molded by their surroundings. They are taking it all in. As a child I was no different. I watched my parents and hung onto the back pocket of my four older brothers: Mike, Cliff, Matt and Vernon. Always watching…Always learning...Eager to be just like them.

The 1970’s and Our Changing Society

Back in 1974 when I was 9 years old the world was changing. It was the ‘70’s baby! Our country was coming out of the unrest of the 1960’s; out of the Vietnam War and many people within our state of West Virginia were still fighting coal companies to our East and South. Our family had just moved back to St. Marys from Hundred, WV which is near Farmington. Just a few years earlier on November 20, 1968 the Farmington Coal Mine Disaster near Hundred trapped 99 miners and eventually claimed the lives of 78 of those men. 19 of the bodies were never recovered and after 10 years of recovery attempts the mine was permanently sealed in 1978 . This was still fresh in our minds and people within the state were skeptical of big business…especially coal companies. The skepticism would be founded in our own community on April 27, 1978 when the Willow Island cooling tower collapsed within our county claiming the lives of 51 of our own including my sister-in-law Dianna's dad, Bob Blouir and my niece, Beverly's Ganddad...Jim Blouir, my first cousin Brian Taylor and several cousins and relatives from the Steele Family (See Chapter 12).

The coal field battles never reached our part of the state but their impact was felt and influenced every West Virginian since the 1920 Battle of Matewan, the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain (see chapter #3) and still to this day influence people within our state.

Our WV Roots and the Coal Mine Wars

Starting in the early 1900’s when huge coal deposits were found within the West Virginia mountains the coal companies were determined to prevent the miners from forming a Union and they were going to great lengths to ensure the Union never materialized. As I mentioned in detail within Chapter #3, the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest organized armed citizen uprising in American history. It is my strong belief that these coal mine wars within our state are the reason nearly every citizen within our mountains bristle when someone opposes our 2nd Amendment Rights and why we true West Virginian’s will fight for our Constitutional right to bear arms until the end.

Many people do not realize US Government Officials approved the bombing of its own citizen's, the West Virginia miners during the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain in Logan County, WV. You will not find much about it in the history books and thankfully between bad weather and ineptness the biplanes did not inflict serious casualties to the miners (for more information Google search The Battle of Matewan, The Battle of Blair Mountain and Don Chafin. And for a great movie I recommend the 1987 John Sayles film “Matewan”.). This is our history and it has helped mold and shape every family with a long West Virginia heritage…including my mom and dad’s families (The Rawson’s and the Taylor’s).

Work Week and Church on the Weekend

I continued to be drawn to the sport of distance running as I grew up. My four older brothers (Mike, Cliff, Matt and Vernon) continued to have an influence on my interest level. Our family worked hard during the week and by the weekend we’d enjoy a little baseball and then church every Sunday morning at the Clay Point United Methodist Church. It was a small, white, one room country church about 1 mile from our home. The church still stands although church services are not held there. We only had around 15 regular attendees in our church and 7 of those were members of my family. I used to get to ring the large church bell signifying the start of the service each Sunday morning. I would unwrap the rope from the hook that held it in place and pull downward as hard as I could making the bell explode into its magic.

Lawrence and Edith Elder were our neighbors and she was our Sunday school teacher. Even at the age of 9 I enjoyed the Sunday school class and listening to her daughter Beth…I was just a kid and she was much older than me but she was always amazingly nice to everyone. I believe she was Mike’s age. They were a great family and the first people in the community to welcome us back to St. Marys when we moved from Hundred, WV. Sam and Elizabeth Bailey (Bill Bailey’s parents) were also our neighbors and rode to church with us each Sunday morning. Edith and her daughters made a small quilt for me when I was born. I carried that quilt for years and believe my mom still has it tucked away somewhere.

Dad Makes a Life Changing Decision

By the time I was born in 1965 my dad would not drink alcohol and to my knowledge my mom has never tasted alcohol. We never had alcohol, even beer around our house and I never tasted alcohol until my first day of college (see chapter #63) when it was forced upon me by some of the upperclassmen at WVU. Our dad quit smoking around 1967, after realizing it was literally killing him. He had been a smoker for much of his life and got to the point he could not sleep while laying on his left side. The smoking was killing him…one lung at a time. He kept his cigarettes in the front pocket of his shirt. As I recall he was smoking about a pack a day until he came home from working on his sawmill and placed his cigarettes on the kitchen table declaring that he was done with them. He quit that day…on the spot and never smoked again.

I remember asking him years later how he did it…how he just quit smoking cold turkey and his reply was telling. He said as a matter of fact, “It was easy; I just made up my mind and decided I was finished.” No psychological counseling? No pills or medication? Only the “will power” to stop a habit that he had spent the better part of his life doing. I realize addiction is different for different people and I’m not suggesting that everyone can quit an addiction in this manner. I’m just glad that our dad had the strength to quit and the ability to quit a lifelong addiction by simply making a determined decision. My brothers and I were blessed with two very strong, determined parents. When they set their minds to something…so it would be. Growing up this was sometimes a good thing and other times a bit…frustrating. Once they made up their mind that was it. No way could you change it. Determined? Stubborn? Both? I will admit now…as Hank William’s Jr sang, “I’m just carrying on an old family tradition”. My wife, Lori will agree that I’m all of these things and then some.

A Close Family

We lived in a 1 bath home on Mt. Carmel Ridge about 3 miles from St. Marys. All 5 of us boys had beds in the upstairs of our house. Cliff and Mike had beds next to each other on one side of the room while Matt, Vernon and I had beds on the other side of the room. Vernon and I shared bunk beds…One stacked on top of the other, like you see in a college dormitory and I was in the upper bed. That lasted until I fell out of the bed one night and then Vernon and I had to switch places. He moved into the top bed and I moved to the bottom bed with Matt next to us. I cherish those memories of all of us lying in our beds talking until mom or dad told us to “quiet down”. We got to know each other as a family listening to each others stories.

Matt and His Radio

My brother Matt liked listening to "tunes". It was 1975 and the music on the radio was lively and the age of disco was starting. The Bee Gee’s were beginning to gain popularity and KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get down Tonight” was at the top of the charts (video link: Matt had a small battery operated AM radio that he listened to while in bed. Sometimes late at night he could pick up an AM radio station out of Chicago. The DJ on that station was “Wolf Man Jack”. What a voice he had. Every time he would break for a commercial he would say, “This is Wolf Man Jack and we’ll be right back”. Matt would listen to that radio all night it seemed like. He would lay it on his pillow and press his ear to it. It was never loud but sometimes I would be a pain and get him in trouble by yelling to our mom that he had the radio on. He never seemed to get too upset that his little brother was basically a pain in the ass. Regardless, he listened to that radio for hours and is likely why to this day he can quote song lyrics and their artists. I’m not sure how he learned movie trivia and the ability to remember actor’s names, but he is exceptional at that also. Don’t believe me? Test him the next time you see him.

News on Steve Prefontaine

In June of 1975 my brothers convinced my dad to take up running to get into shape. A few weeks before my dad started to run I remember my brother Matt waking up and reaching for his radio. It was Saturday morning, May 31st, 1975. As I lay there in bed we listened to the music from a station in Parkersburg. It was 7:00AM and the top of the hour as the ABC News came on the radio. Matt had the volume turned up high enough for Vernon and I to hear. That’s when it came on the air. The news that only years later would I understand. That's when the news announcer said, “Great American distance runner Steve Prefontaine is dead.” He went on to explain that “Pre” was killed in a single car accident the night before (May 30) while driving to his home in Eugene, Oregon. As I listened I recall Matt’s disbelief. He and Vernon began to talk rapidly about the news. As their little brother I wanted to know who this Steve Prefontaine was. After several minutes Matt began to explain Steve Prefontaine was the greatest American Distance Runner ever. At one time he held American Records in every distance from the Mile through the 10,000 Meters. He was also the first athlete Nike ever sponsored and today he is even more legendary. His race toughness and competitiveness helped build a reputation for the Nike Athletics Empire that was in its infancy at the time. I can still hear the words coming from the radio and that was nearly 35 years ago.

Our Dad Begins to Run

As my brothers convinced my dad to run I decided I wanted to tag along with him on his 3 miles of running from our home on Mt Carmel Ridge…down Lamp Hill to the Middle Island Creek Road proceeding to the Truax Farm and turning around in the road and heading back. The easy part was the beginning of the run because it goes downhill for the better part of ¾ of a mile. When we came back we had to climb uphill to our house. Just a couple of years earlier this route would have been very difficult because the road along Middle Island Creek wasn’t much more than a mud path and a challenge to navigate by vehicle. It was at best a 4 wheel drive road back then. In 1972 the Army Corp of Engineers built a series of dams on the Ohio River to help control flooding in the Ohio River Valley and to help barge traffic on the river. My grandfather, Gene Rawson, was a carpenter and helped build the lock and dam that are roughly 5 miles below St. Marys.

People that live on the banks of a large river, like the Ohio; understand barge traffic is a critical part of supplying coal and fuel to the power and chemical plants along the river and moving their products. Making the river deeper and more navigable was important to the development of industry up and down the Ohio River from its origin in Pittsburgh to its ending point where it converges with the Mississippi near the city of Cairo, Illinois. Regardless, the building of the locks and dams raised the river level permanently by nearly 6 feet and that meant a lot of clearing of trees had to be done along the tributaries of the Ohio River to prepare for the new water level. The trees could not be left standing along the shore line because if they washed out in a flood they could block the dam causing serious issues. The Army Corp came in and cleared the trees from the banks of Middle Island Creek because it is one of the Ohio River tributaries within our county. When they cleared the shore line they expanded the mud road on the North side of Middle Island Creek below our house turning it into an amazing road. Since this new road was only a couple of years old it was still unique and a great place to run for our family.

Another Challenge

As the weeks turned into the Dog Days of summer my four brothers began to get into heated discussions, debates or what most would call arguments about who was the faster runner. At some point a challenge, and trust me they happened daily, was decreed between Mike and Cliff vs. Matt and Vernon regarding which team was faster. I was only 9 and felt left out of all the big challenges. I was riding motocross but not remotely close to my 4 older brothers…My little Honda 50 cc would not keep up…I could fish pretty good as long as it was cat fishing…I was too young to carry a gun hunting. It seemed I was too little for anything my big brothers did. This running challenge was no different. I felt left out but I was ~determined~ to change that.

The Loop

As my brothers bantered back and forth it was decided a long race would settle the argument. That’s the beauty of our sport. If you think you are faster than someone else…line up and someone will be proven right and someone will indeed be proven wrong. The race would be around the “loop” as we knew it. The “loop” is a 4.5 mile circle starting and ending at our house. One team of brothers would start by going down Lamp Hill to the Middle Island Creek Road following it to the Route 2 Bridge before turning right onto the Mt. Carmel Ridge Road following it until you took a right onto Lamp Hill road leading downhill back to our house. The challenge was for Mike and Cliff to run the loop in one direction and Matt and Vernon would race them by going the other direction. The team that got their 2 runners back to the house 1st would win. The losers and it would be reiterated often that the 2nd place team were losers, would have to listen to the two brothers for the entire summer.

The Anchor…Which Meaning?

Our dad told them to “line it up”. This was a big deal in our household. It’s an understatement to say we were competitive. This was serious and not one of my brothers wanted to listen to the others gloat the entire summer. I wanted in on this race but I was ignored every time I would say, “I want to race too.” Finally as the race came together I put on an old pair of my brothers shoes and got ready. I stood there in front of our mailbox which served as the official starting line and finish line. Our house was about ¾ of the way up Lamp Hill. Cliff, as if this race was going to come down to a sprint to the finish, took a stick and drug it across the dirt road forming the official start/finish line. Since we lived on the hill, Cliff and Mike would go down Lamp Hill to start…while Vernon and Matt would go up Lamp Hill to start “the loop” in the opposite direction.

As I stood there I decided I did not want to start and end going uphill, so I would follow Mike and Cliff. They did not want me to follow because they were always babysitting me. My brothers constantly had to watch over me and I would be an ~anchor~ to them…slowing them down. That couldn’t happen on this day because this race was serious business. They couldn’t afford any distractions from the race… the task at hand. Both Mike and Cliff told me they would not wait on me and that I was on my own. Wow, I thought. That sounded great. I was actually going to be on my own? No one would be watching my every move? No one would be telling me what to do? For the first time in my life I was getting to do something on my own. I would be out there on this 4.5 mile loop by myself. I would be free to experience this on my own. I felt as if I grew several inches right then and there.

I was feeling pretty good about this and refocused my determination telling myself to not mess this up. I did not want to be an anchor, like on a boat. Instead I wanted to be the anchor as it applies to a relay team. There is a big difference between the two applications of the word. I had to stay close enough to Mike and Cliff that they did not have to worry about me so they could race Matt and Vernon without me being a boat anchor to them… I did not want to be anyone’s excuse for losing. I did not want to carry that burden. In later years I would call on these feelings and this fear when I was handed a baton as a member of a relay. I never wanted to be the reason for losing!!! It did not matter if I got the baton behind the leaders I felt obligated and responsible to get the win. In a few years after this my favorite feeling during high school was getting the baton, especially getting it behind the leader. I loved the opportunity to bring the team to victory.

As our dad started my brother’s race he also started the stopwatch. Off we went. Mike and Cliff sprinted off Lamp Hill like they were shot out of a canon. I knew nothing except keep them in sight. I kept telling myself…Don’t mess this up for them…Stay close….Run harder…Hurt a little…Hurt a lot…Stay close…Don’t let them get out of sight... This effort continued down Middle Island Creek Road. As I ran, Mike and Cliff got further and further away until I was alone. I was alone running down the road. No one was around…Just me and my own private thoughts. I began to worry...I began to think...I began to think TOO much, instead of just running! "Should I turn around?" If I did then it would prove that I was still just a child that needed to be babysat. I knew that I must keep going.

The Shortcut at the Barley House

I passed the Truax Farm and got down to the Barley house (now owned by Jimmy Riggs). Near the Barley house there is a natural gas line right-of-way that goes from the Middle Island Creek Road up to the Mt. Carmel Ridge Road. This section of the gas line right-of-way is still grass covered and on this day it had been recently mowed. I was slower than my brothers without question and I needed to get them back into view in a hurry. So…I took a right turn and cut the course by using the gas line right-of-way to cutoff some time and distance. As I climbed the gas line I was cutting at least ½ mile off the course. As I stepped onto the Mt Carmel Ridge Road I looked up the hill and did not see anyone. Mike, Cliff, Matt and Vernon were nowhere to be seen. I started running with a bad feeling that I was ruining it for them. I sure hoped they did not come looking for me. I should have known better thinking that way. I kept running and started to feel small once again. I had a lot of self doubt going on. That’s when I heard something and looked over my shoulder. There 70 yards behind me…yes behind me…were Mike and Cliff chugging up the Mt Carmel Ridge Road hill. I was in front of them! Yea baby, I thought! Ha Ha…I was rolling! I was revived and I certainly wasn’t thinking about the ½ mile I cut off the course…No, not at all because I was thinking that I was in the lead.

By then they were tired and climbing uphill so I stayed pretty close until we reached the old “dump”, the place where the trash from St. Marys was hauled and literally dumped over the hill. From there Mike and Cliff really pulled away from me. When I got home all 4 of my brothers were back and still arguing. I missed the finish and to this day I can still strike up an argument with the 4 of them by asking who won that day. Our dad left his finish line post and since he was not there to declare the winners each team of brothers claimed victory. I know this isn't possible but I can’t get an accurate result from any of them. For me, I was feeling really good about myself. In my mind I was a big boy and did the 4.5 miles on my own. No one was watching over me. No one was holding my hand. I felt like I was independent for the first time in my life. It was a powerful feeling!

A Great Lesson

As I walked around feeling good about my new independence and how close I finished to my brothers my dad started telling them how great I had done. It turned the attention away from their race which didn’t go over real well. Then, moments later, I learned a great lesson when one of my brothers said I had “cheated”. Then he called me “nothing but a cheater”. Being called a cheater was a low blow. With my brothers you didn’t get much lower unless someone said, “you love Rosie” our 300+ pound neighbor. Even though I was 9 years old I was old enough to know that being labeled a "cheater" was bad and I took it pretty hard. It made me mad. I knew what he meant but I didn’t want to face it. I yelled back, immediately ready to fight and then stormed off starting to cry.

All my brothers looked out for me throughout my years. On this day my brother Matt caught up to me and stopped me being a little more delicate in his approach. He said, “ cut the course…and that is cheating”. Matt always had patience with me and he continued to explain to me that nothing good comes from cheating and that although I might have some short term glory, in the long haul it would be something impossible to stop. He said, “If you cheat today by cutting the course it becomes that much easier to do it again tomorrow.” I heard him loud and clear. It was a lesson that likely saved my running, academic and professional careers. For years I’ve wondered what would have happened if I had not learned this lesson…and what the future would have been if my brothers had not corrected me that day…What if they had not called me out then and there? Even today, as a coach I get irate quickly if I see someone cutting a course, walking between intervals, taking a shortcut or cheating in some manner. Athletes that I have coached will attest to this. It all started on this day in 1975.

Road Racing Begins in West Virginia

As the summer rolled along I was preparing to move from St. Marys Elementary School up to the 5th grade and the brand new Pleasants County Middle School. I’d just turned 10 and after training for a few weeks with my dad he began to feel better and better about running. My brothers began talking about running a road race in September on Labor Day. Road racing was a new phenomenon. The Frank Shorter, Bill Rogers, Steve Prefontaine era had moved running to mainstream. The race my brothers talked about was the Paden City 3 mile Fun Run.

Paden City was a slightly smaller town than St. Marys and located along the Ohio River roughly 20 miles north of our town. My four older brothers continued to talk about this race until they convinced my dad to run. I decided I wanted to do it also, but my mom told me it was too long of a race for a 10 year old. She was convinced it would stunt my growth if I ran that far. She might have been right based on my weight at my 1983 high school graduation. I reminded her that I was running that far with dad at least 3 days a week and then brought up my 4.5 mile Loop Run. Strike that, my 4 mile Loop Run.

The Paden City 3 mile Fun Run

I was finally given approval by my mom to run and we headed to Paden City for the big race two days before Labor Day. The race was held on Saturday, August 31, 1975 and would be the first time I had ever run in an organized road race. When we got to the race site a pretty good crowd was gathering already and I began to get excited. I was wearing yellow shorts, along with a striped red, white and blue tank-top shirt and a pair of my older brother’s hand-me-down running shoes that were several sizes too big. That didn’t matter. It was race day and I was pretty excited about it.

As my dad paid each of our $5.00 entry fees we got our race numbers and the green, short sleeved “Paden City Fun Run” t-shirt that went to everyone that registered. Anyone that knew me in middle school likely knows the shirt I reference since I wore it nearly every day to school. I wore the shirt so often that my homeroom teacher pulled me aside on two separate occasions and asked me if I had any other shirts at home to wear. She even brought me a shirt to school one day offering it to me. I assured her I had shirts other than my “race” shirt but I really don’t think she believed me. I was proud of that shirt and wore it as a badge showing my declaration that I was a "runner"...just like my older brothers.

He Looks Like the Man to Beat

As registration continued my two oldest brothers, Mike and Cliff, noticed a guy decked out in all Nike gear, head to toe including the socks to match. Nike was a fairly new company and not the giant it is today. They had just come out with a print ad with the tag "There is no finish line" and the year before in 1974 they sponsored their first athlete, the great American distance runner, Steve Prefontaine who I mentioned earlier. Even though it was a fairly new company it was gaining a name.

This runner decked in Nike gear was in his late twenty’s and he had a good tan. For some reason I can still picture the guy to this day. As was common in the '70's he had long curly black hair. As he shifted his weight from one foot to the other his legs showed muscle definition. He was a running specimen based on everything they saw. Cliff turned to Mike and said, “He looks like the man to beat.” They both agreed after sizing him up. He wore the Nike waffle shoes that had just become available for purchase and the latest running shoe rave at the time. These Nike waffle shoes were named by their designer and invented by Oregon's legendary track coach, Bill Bowerman on his wife’s household waffle iron…This runner’s shorts…shirt…everything he wore matched. He was intimidating.

As we left the registration area I remember listening to my brother’s talk. I was 10 years old and a sponge taking it all in. What were they seeing in this guy? Why was he “the man to beat”? I needed to know and understand these things if I was ever going to be a runner. I didn’t bother asking right then because it was nearly time to warm-up and race and their nerves seemed to be on edge. I watched their every move.

My four brothers went on their way to warm-up. Dad and I ran a couple hundred yards down the sidewalk and back while my brothers ran the course to familiarize themselves with the turns and finish. They always ran the course and later told me, "the leader had to know where to go." I understood clearly what they meant and in the years following I would practice this habit of theirs by ALWAYS previewing/running the course before my races. As they all 4 returned to the start line the feelings were intense even for a 10 year old. There was music and an announcer talking over it. It was loud…It was busy…It was overwhelming…It was awesome!!
The Next Lesson

As we all headed to the start line my brothers were looking for “the man”. Dad and I were towards the back of the 200+ people racing. My brothers were all up in the front row while I was connected to my dad’s hip. As they stood on the starting line it was time for another valuable lesson to be learned. My brothers stood there looking around for the man-to-beat but they did not see him. As they scanned feverishly for the guy that ~looked~ like a running specimen they eventually spotted him. He was not in the front of the race. He was not warming up doing last minute strides. He was not on the start line preparing to breathe fire on the course. Instead he was completely in the back of the race, leaning against a telephone pole smoking a cigarette. In the end there was no reason for the anxiety and worrying over this person that ~looked~ like a runner.

Get Out of My Way

As the race was called to the start my dad leaned over to me and told me that when the gun sounded I should get out of his way. He was joking but I didn’t realize it. I interpreted what he said differently than he intended. His point to me was that I should basically move over out of his way because he was taking off fast and he didn’t want to use me for traction…I interpreted his comment to mean that I should take off when the gun sounded…Which is exactly what I did. The gun sounded and I got out of my dad’s way alright. After the race he laughed about it and still tells the story how he told me to get out of his way…and I did.

The Finish

The race ended with Cliff and Mike taking 1st and 2nd…Matt and Vernon both placed in the top 8 which meant four Taylor brothers finished in the top 8 overall. I won the 14 and under age group although I was only 10 years old. I ran the 3 miles in just under 23 minutes which meant nothing to me. What did mean something was that I won my age group and I got a t-shirt for my efforts. I wore the shirt to school nearly every day and for the remainder of my competitive running career through 1996 I wore it often in workouts after cutting the sleeves off. By 1996 it was so worn that I could clearly see through the material. It served as a constant reminder for me to remember my roots, to remember where I came from and that I was from West "by God" Virginia.

Brothers Teaching Little Brother

After the awards ceremony it was once again time for my big brothers to explain some things to me. It was time for Mike, Cliff, Matt and Vernon to teach me what they were learning. Again, some people may think the lessons are of minimal consequence but in the years to come they influenced my career, how I approached races and how I managed what some would consider stressful, high pressure situations. My brothers explained the reality that it takes hard work to be successful…There are no shortcuts to take...and that cheating gets you nowhere.

On this morning Cliff continued with comments on the runner he and Mike determined ~looked~ “like the man to beat”. He stressed how that was a mistake for them to have done that and told me that they would never do that again and that in the future I should never concern myself with what someone looked like before a race. I grabbed a hold of those words and never forgot what he and my other brothers shared with me and how they took the time to explain these things. As he continued he interjected that distance running is not about what a person looks like, as they learned that morning…After all, great distance runners come in all sizes. It’s not about the shoes… It’s not about the uniform they wear…and it’s not about being color coordinated from head to toe. Instead, he explained…distance running is about guts, passion, determination and as he put so bluntly on that Saturday morning in Paden City, “it’s about your heart and the size of your balls”.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Q & A with Spider Thrower…Monica Howard

Monica Howard is a thrower for the Spiders Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field teams where she competes in the Weight Throw and Shot Put during the indoor season and the Discus, Javelin, Hammer and Shot Put during the outdoor season. With the discus as her primary event, Howard a Wilmington, Ohio native also picked up the javelin throw her freshman year where she was crowned the league champion and earned a spot at the NCAA East Regional Championships hosted by the University of Florida. Along with holding the program record in the discus, she was named the Spiders' Most Outstanding Rookie Field Performer during the 2008 outdoor season.

We had the opportunity to ask Monica a few questions recently:

Question: You are coming off surgery this fall. What was the nature of your injury and how have you felt during your rehab?

Howard: Initially they thought that my ACL was torn but I found out that my ACL is just smaller then it should be. So instead of ACL surgery I had scar tissue removed from the knee surgery I had my senior year of high school. As far as rehab was concerned I felt like it went really well, I fell like I am back to 100%.

Question: Originally from Wilmington, Ohio, what drew you to be part of the Spiders program?

Howard: Well if you have ever been to Ohio you know that there isn’t much there, so when I was searching for colleges I was only looking outside of Ohio. Richmond actually found me though, I didn’t find it, I actually had never heard of Richmond until I talked to Coach Jones who recruited me. Once I came on my visit I really like the environment so I decided that Richmond was the place for me.

Question: What will you focus on the most in training as we head into the indoor and outdoor seasons?

Howard: Footwork and technique is always important, you can never be too good with footwork and technique.

Question: What is the strongest part of your technique in the discus that you feel can help take you to the next level?

Howard: I am quick in the ring, and since I am a small thrower it’s an advantage.

Question: What exercises do you practice the most in the weight room that helps you the most in your event? Do you incorporate any ply-o-metric exercises?

Howard: All of our workouts are designed for whatever event or events we specialize in so our whole workout is important. Yes we have a specific day specifically for ply-o-metrics.
Question: Considering the time you have to wait for the outdoor season to arrive, what do you focus on during the indoor season to prepare yourself for your event?

Howard: Outdoor is really what I look forward too, so during indoor season I try and focus on footwork and technique because no matter what event those two things are important. As for my outdoor events, we have practices where we work on outdoor events.

Question: Do you pay close attention to your competitors within your conference and on the national scene?

Howard: No, I don’t really like to know where I stand because I feel like that adds pressure. The only person I like to watch nationally is my sister; I like to see how she is doing.

Question: Who are some of the most influential people in your life and what is some of the best advice that they have given you?

Howard: My track coaches in high school were really influential in my track career and my sister because if it wasn’t for her I would never have started throwing in the first place. Also my parents for sharing their athletic genes with me…

Chapter 30: The SMHS 50 Yard Line “Park”

(The photo above as it appears in the 1983 SMHS Yearbook--Page #170.)

A Story of Loyal Friends...Growing Up in a Small Town
(Tom “stickman” Hill arrived into Richmond today prompting me to post this story...)
Back in high school we tended to have good clean fun. Many people would ask how you define good, clean fun. Everyone has their own definition. This next chapter will explain how a handful of my close friends and I defined small town “fun” when we were growing up. I want to stress that in all our years we never did anything to destroy property of others. Our actions would be more than just frowned upon these days and frankly would not be acceptable nearly anywhere. For us, it’s just the way it was. This particular story goes back a lot of years and shows how good friends handle things and shows the level of trust I have in these men to this day…nearly 30 years later. Thankfully, we got this sort of thing out of our system a few years ago.
Cross Country Begins at SMHS
In our hometown of St. Marys, West Virginia in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s there were only a couple thousand people in our entire county of Pleasants…and our high school (St. Marys High School) had less than 400 total students in grades 9-12. The West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC) grouped high schools based on the number of students within the school. Most sports within the state use the A, AA, AAA classification. We were placed into group “A”, the smallest classification. Even though we were a small, class “A” school we competed against the largest schools (class AAA) within the state during the cross country season. Back then, there was only one classification in our state for the high school cross country championships (AAA). We always felt like underdogs as a class “A” school and always felt we had to earn and fight for everything we achieved against the bigger, class AAA teams. Those roots still run through my blood as a coach and I still love slaying the megalithic.
SMHS started a cross country team my freshman year of school (1979). Our high school track & field coach, Jerry Rea asked me and a handful of my cousins during the summer of ’79 if we were going to run cross country that fall. It was a new sport to our town and my cousin asked, “What’s cross country?” I had no idea. Actually none of us had any idea what cross country was. Coach Rea replied, “Well, you run through fields and creeks and jump logs and that sort of thing.” As we stood there on the high school steps leading into the hallway next to the gymnasium we just looked at each other. Then we nodded that “yes” we would run and concluded that this ‘cross country’ thing sounded like what we did practically every day anyway. Coach Rea is a man of few words and as he left us standing there in front of the school we began to talk with excitement about this new sport to our school.
Summer Running
During my four years of high school, SMHS jumped in to the sport with great success for a school of our size. The first year we even had a cross country program our team placed second at the state championships…Again, in the AAA division. As we all moved through the years our cross country season officially started in early August, but a group of us would meet in our hometown on Rt 2, the road next to our high school, every afternoon at 5:00PM during the summer months to train and prepare for the fall season. It was not mandated by our coach…There was no fixed training schedule…No one forced us to do it. No one called us to make sure we were there to run at 5:00PM. It was just expected by each of us and what we wanted to do. It was as regular part of our day as getting out of bed each morning. For me, my brothers and my cousins (Rob and Jim), we would work on my dad’s sawmill from 7:00AM until 4:00PM and head home to change out of our work clothes for our afternoon run. By the time I reached high school age my 4 brothers (Mike, Cliff, Matt and Vernon) had all graduated and had state championships titles to their credit. They all 4 ran a bit following high school...only Mike and Cliff continued to run in the years following. They both coach at SMHS today.
Back in those days we had a hard core group that met daily. The group included my brothers Mike and Cliff…my cousin Larry, our good friends Lee Haddox… Tom “stickman” Hill…Don “Beets” Harding...and in the later years Danny DeMoss, Gerald Bookman and Doyle Monday joined us. We’d even have runners from across the state and other schools like Mark Nichols (Elkins HS), Denny Love (Charleston area), Jeff Hammons (University of Wisconsin) who is the nephew of Randy Hammons of Kings Redge and the Sarver brothers (Joe and Roger) from Marietta, OH stop in to run with us. Mark Nichol’s grandmother lived in Belmont; the town next to St. Marys and he moved to live with her for the summer of 1981 for the sole purpose training with us. In an age before cell phones and the internet it was not uncommon to have a group of 8-10 people meeting on any given day of the week in our small town.
We trained hard and treated every day as an opportunity to prove something and to improve ourselves. At the time we didn’t know or understand what it was we were trying to prove and we certainly did not understand training or the physiology behind it, but rest assured every run ended in a race back to the high school. One day it would be the last mile of the run and the next it was the last 800M. Every day someone would push the issue (i.e.- the pace)…every day someone felt good…everyday someone in the group felt they could prove they had the stronger will. Everyday someone was right and someone was wrong. It was simple, uncomplicated and pure to its heart.
St. Marys sits on the banks of the Ohio River within the rolling hills of West “By God” Virginia. It’s not western Virginia as some outsiders that do not understand our state might want to call us. Its beautiful country and I recall the sun setting on the Ohio side of the river and the views we would get from running the “old pike” which is a mile long hill that winds its way from downtown St. Marys uphill to Rt. 16 before we would hang a right and head down “Shadow Hill” back into town. Those views of the Ohio River and those crimson red sunsets are etched in my memory.
The Smoking Area at SMHS
Sometime in September of 1982 our school administration decided to make some improvements to the grounds around our high school. There were some students and teachers that liked to have a cigarette or otherwise a smoke-break during school hours. They were allowed to have their smoke-break as long as they stayed in the designated area next to the bleachers. This didn’t work out because some people in the smoking group started slipping under the bleachers out of view of school officials. That’s when the administration decided to move the smoking area to a more open position on school grounds. Someone within the school decided to purchase 5 concrete benches and a couple of trash cans to place within the newly designated smoking-area, which was under a light tower on school property. The light tower was actually an old oil rig derrick that was used at the turn of the century for drilling natural gas and oil wells within our county. The central and southern parts of West Virginia have coal while our county to this day has oil and gas. After SMHS was built and the oil derricks were abandoned they were converted to light towers and placed at the high school for lighting the football field. The oil derrick I write about has since been taken down but 4 remain at the football field giving our stadium distinct character, which I like. Again, this area was designated the new “smoking area” for students and faculty and was located right outside, at the time, the Vocational Agriculture/FFA and the Band Rooms. In addition to the newly designed smoking area, our school also planted 4 nice, new trees in the area outside of the gymnasium where buses pick-up and drop-off students. The trees were small maples about 7 feet in height.
This was big news in our school and the majority of our cross country team didn’t think it was right or a good idea. Our school was basically promoting smoking in our eyes by providing this “official” smoking area. A few of us cross country runners were also members of the FFA and we would sometimes get the 2nd hand smoke as it came through the windows of our classroom. It was simply change and we didn’t care for it.
The 1981 & 1982 Seasons
As the 1982 cross country season began our weeks were filled with hard workouts held in the Pleasants County Park, our one and only County Park. Our school was coming off several consecutive successful spring track season where we won the class A-AA state team title numerous times for the boys. As a junior I captured a few individual high school state titles…AAA XC, the A-AA 1600M, 3200M and 4x800 Relay. During the 1980 fall cross country season, my sophomore year; we placed 3 runners (Lee Haddox-3rd, Me-5th, Tom Hill-7th) in the top 10 in the class AAA cross country championships. Then during my junior year Tom Hill and I finished in the top 5 in XC with me narrowly claiming the state title in a race that I rank as one of the most painful in my career, but that’s another story. No other school matched our 1980 XC performance… unfortunately, we did not have a team qualified…only our three individuals.
Coach Rea was a great coach and as inducted into the Mid Ohio Valley Sports Hall-of-Fame a couple years ago. He had us train in the park most nights. It’s a hilly place with lots of steep up and down hills. We ran “figure 8’s” on a 1.1 mile loop that offered very few flat spots. On the rare occasion we would head to “Middle Island” for a flat run. The Ingram family owned Middle Island, a 2.2 mile long stretch of land at the convergence of the Ohio River and Middle Island Creek and they allowed us to run there. We were fortunate that they let us have free reign of the island for running. It’s a great place and is now a wildlife refuge filled with trails throughout. Every time I go home to visit I go for a run on Middle Island.
I was coming off an undefeated junior season within WV and Ohio and a win at the Kinney Northeast Regional Championships at Van Cortlandt Park in NYC and a 7th place finish at Kinney (now Foot Locker) National XC Championships in Orlando, FL. As our season moved into October our team was on fire having a lot of success defeating the “AAA” schools we faced each weekend. Each weekend we traveled to an invitational somewhere in West Virginia or Ohio. We raced hard and then listened to the “Sugar Hill Gang” and the first mainstream rap song (Rappers Delight: on 8 tract tape on the way home as we planned our Saturday night. We had the song memorized from the year before and to this day me and my cousin Rob can break into the tune at will. We did the same thing nearly every weekend following our meets…We’d pile and cram 7-8 of us into a vehicle…usually my brother Cliff’s green CJ-7 Jeep and then drive 25 miles to Parkersburg to go bowling at Emerson Lanes or to grab a pizza at Pizza Hut... The typical crew on Saturday night included me and my first cousins Rob and Jim, relative John “hair head” Hashman, Lee Haddox, Jennings Illar, Tom Hill and Don Harding.
Bowling on the Big Night
We went bowling at Emerson Lanes on Saturday, October 23, 1982 after a meet at John Marshall High School in Moundsville, WV. It was a night to bring our old team back together. The night was typical and filled with a lot of laughs and reminiscing. Tom Hill…Hillba, Rudy or Stickman as everyone knew him…was always funny and made you laugh. I weighed 120 pounds at the time and “stickman” certainly seemed a lot smaller than me. He got his name because he looked like the stick people you draw when you’re 8 years old. I don’t think the man could have weighed more than 112 pounds. He was a hell of a runner and is still on the top 10 All-Time List for the 3200M in WV. Don Harding was a little more serious but always poking fun. He’d get riled up making us chuckle along the way. Get him and Mike Cunningham together and oh my goodness what a riot.
We laughed and laughed but throughout the night our conversation came back to the new smoking area at SMHS and to the idea that our football team was getting all the headlines. We all grumbled to each other as normal kids do. We were getting ourselves all worked up. It wasn’t directed towards our friends and classmates or a specific sport, but towards the people in charge making these decisions. After all, we were in high school and thought we knew just about everything….Read in my sarcasm. First we’d grumble about the benches and the trash cans…and then about the smoke...and then to the pictures of 3rd Team All-State players who were getting their photo on the wall at our high school. In our minds 3rd team All-State was like getting 3rd place in an event at the state track championships. In track you had to win a state title to get your photo on the wall. In our minds it wasn’t fair and we weren’t getting a fare shake. Again, we were in high school and thought we knew just about everything.
Defining “hood-la-mize-ing” and the Hoodlamizing Club
As we finished our 2nd game of bowling at $1 per game we decided to head for St. Marys. We had a long run the next morning so when we got to the high school where we started our car pool for the trip to Emerson Lanes everyone headed their separate way. That is except for me, Tom Hill and Don Harding. We were still standing there talking when I said, “Man, I just don’t feel like going home yet.” Both Stickman and Beets looked at me and said, “Well, what do you want to do?” I had no idea. I just knew that it was 10:30PM on Saturday night and I didn’t want to go home. That’s when one of them said, “You want to do some ‘hood-la-mize-ing’ for old time sake or what?”
You see Stickman was the master. He would come up with ideas that just can’t be explained. His brain worked in a way like no one else I’ve ever met in my lifetime. He would come up with these ideas he termed “hood-la-mize-ing”. The rules for hoodlamizing were simple: a) come up with a unique idea to make a noticeable point… b) destroy no one’s property outside of pumpkins at Halloween… c) never steal someone’s property…d) never ever, ever get caught….and e) and most important… do not breath a word to anyone else... take it to your grave…tell no one. We knew Coach Rea would kick us off the cross country/track teams with no questions asked if we’d ever got caught...Then we’d also have to face our parents…No way… getting caught was not an option!
There were 3 of us in this private little club of fun that we called “hood-la-mize-ing”. Once in a while my brother Cliff would join us. I watched in amazement one night as he climbed a field goal post while holding a car tire in one hand. He climbed to the very top of the field goal post lifted the tire over the goal post upright…Let it drop onto his hands…kicked his butt out letting the tire drop….slid back down the goal post upright and moved the tire to the middle of the goal post. To our amazement when we saw this we told him he could never do that again. He replied, “Sure I can.” Then he proceeded to do it again with another tire repeating the process. To this day I wonder how someone got those steel-belted tires off the goal post….As Don Harding said this week, “Probably the greatest feat of shear strength I've ever seen even today!!!” Thankfully it was not in football season… Also, Mike Cunningham, Matt Bailey and JB Abbott joined in on some of the great pumpkin smashes each Halloween. The good stuff though…The genius that was hoodlamizing usually started with an idea from our Stickman.
The Making of a Park
At 10:00PM on weekends the 1 city policeman on duty in St. Marys would come to the high school to lock the 2 gates that allowed entrance to the school property. We’d scoped it out plenty of times. We knew the loop the 1 policeman on duty drove on his rounds and we knew when the neighbors around the school came home. We scouted it out…we were thorough. As we stood there outside of SMHS, Stickman, Beets and I talked about what kind of hoodlamizing we could do. It needed to be original…It couldn’t be just any old thing…It needed to have some bite to it while not damaging property. As we bounced ideas back and forth we came up with it. It was genius in our minds…Genius on so many levels we thought.
Here’s how we saw it: The high school administration decided a few weeks before to make a new smoking area and plant some trees at the school. The trouble was the benches and trash cans they placed in the smoking area under the big light tower just didn’t go with the asphalt surroundings….And the maple trees they planted just did not go in the little squares holes within the concrete sidewalk next to the school. No...No…No…We concluded then and there this was ALL wrong. This mess just didn’t feel or look right. We could right this wrong and we would do so on this cool October night.
Let’s see we thought…the smoking section was too close to the school…The maple trees needed more space to grow….It was simply wrong. Then it hit us. It smacked us in the forehead like we were shot with a diamond bullet. It was crystal clear. The high school football team was losing class A games, but still getting all the headlines while XC was winning class AAA invitational’s…The smokers within the school were stuck under this big light tower. Nope, this was no good. Our smokers needed their own PARK. Yep, they should have a park where they could sit down and smoke with green grass and plenty of open space. That’s when we decided to turn our football field into a park for the smokers. It wouldn’t hurt anyone and yet it would get the smokers further away from the school…They would be in the middle of the football field where the administration could keep an eye on them. Plus it would make another unspoken point at the same time. We’d take a trash can and the benches out to the 50 yard line and set them up in park-like fashion. It was settled.
Getting Started and the Park Design
We realized a couple years earlier that even when the chain link gates to the school were closed and chained they were not always locked. Sometimes our 1 city policeman would close the gates and make the chain and its lock look like they were locked. Upon closer inspection you would find the chain was just looped back on itself and the lock not fastened. On this night (October 23, 1982) the gate was locked, so we had no fear of anyone driving through the school and seeing us….perfect
Even with the gates locked, the one on the North end of the school had space under it that we could lay down on the asphalt and crawl underneath. Next to this gate was a large green building with a large set of sliding doors (This green building is no longer there…long since torn down and replaced with a red brick Vo-Ag/FFA Building.). It was the maintenance building and was always locked….On the school grounds there were two night lights…one on the north end of the football field connected to a large light tower…and the other was on the south end of the football field next to the football concession stand. The point…The 50 yard line of the football was prime real-estate for a new park to be built under the cover of darkness.
The Benches and the Trash Can
We moved our cars to a back alley near Sam White’s house so they were not near the school. Sam was the local judge. Two of his son’s were good basketball players for SMHS and Stickman and Beets knew them both. After parking our cars we stripped off our bright shirts and replaced them with black ones. I always grabbed a dark shirt when we went out, knowing it might be needed later. If you hoodlamize in a white shirt you’re asking to get caught.
After changing shirts we quietly and stealth-fully proceeded to the high school gate. We rolled under the gate and went right into action. We grabbed a trash can and carried it out to the 50 yard line of the football field and surveyed the area. We went back to the smoking area and grabbed a concrete bench. We thought these benches would weigh 100 pounds or so. Wrong!! These concrete benches were straight up heavy. I could stack 6X9 railroad ties on the sawmill and these benches had to weigh 250-300 pounds. We all three grabbed one bench and toted it out to the 50 yard line. Then we laughed our way back to get another bench. After the third bench we sat down on them to get a feel for our new park. We sat there for a few minutes but our Park just did not look or feel right. Something was definitely missing!
The Missing Piece to the New Park
Again we looked at each other knowing this was not good enough. Come Monday morning a couple of people would have the benches back in place in minutes. Nope this just didn’t have the bite we were looking for. That’s when we realized what our little park needed. Call it, in modern terms…going green. Our park on the 50 yard line of the football field needed……..a …………..TREE. Yes, it needed a maple tree. That would top off our park design nicely.
Making a Pact and our Trust in Each Other
In order to plant a 7 foot tall maple tree we were going to need to dig a big hole. The root ball on a tree of that size is nearly 3 feet in diameter…That’s a large hole when you have nothing to dig with. We knew if we took this step and planted this tree we had to say nothing to no one. It would be very, very bad if anyone found out. We looked each other in the eye and made a pact that we would say nothing until all three of us agreed it was OK. I contacted Tom Hill, who is now an Assistant Director of Athletics at Baylor University and Don Harding who works in the Preston County, WV Board of Education Office and we agreed that 29 years is long enough and that the statute of limitations has passed on our little prank. I trusted these men then and to this day would do anything for them. 29 years and they have kept our hoodlamizing story quiet. We each knew the three of us could trust each other to stay quiet and we each knew what we stood to lose if anyone found out it was us. To this day they are true and loyal friends and have said nothing of these adventures. Loyal friends, as you know, do not come along often.
Digging the Hole
With the decision to plant the tree on the 50 yard line of the football field we moved into gear. The next thing we did was get the maple tree. We went over to where they had been planted a few weeks before. The first one we grabbed was too big. We tried to pull it out of the ground with no luck. The second tree was not quite as big and with some digging through the mulch with our hands we got enough of it out of the way to pull the entire tree and burlap covered root ball out of the ground. The major concern here was the night light. The trees were located next to the school near one of the night lights. We were in trouble if someone drove by on the side street and looked into the school area. We moved quickly and pulled the maple tree out of the ground and out to the 50 yard line.
As we stood there laughing we realized we had no way to dig a hole big enough. We looked under the bleachers and found nothing...We went over by the concession stand and found nothing we could use to dig with. Finally one of us looked toward the old green maintenance building down by the gate (It’s now a red brick Vo-Ag/FFA Building.). We went over to it but it was locked. We soon realized that we could push the sliding door outward and slide behind it. There were probably only a handful of people in the school small enough to slide behind the door. Regardless, it was a tight fit but we slid inside looking for a digging device. It was pitch dark and we didn’t dare turn on a light. All we could do was feel-around with our hands in the dark. We found nothing except 3 short pieces of angle iron, each about two feet long. Angle iron is a piece of metal “L” shaped and roughly 3 inches wide on each side of the “L”. We realized this wasn’t great but it would have to do.
At 11:20PM we slid out of the green building and eased back to our 50 yard line park. We got down on our knees and started digging. Stickman, Beets and I worked in silence. We were on a mission…We’d made a decision to do this and moved into action. The deeper we dug the harder the earth got. We dug with the angle iron to loosen the dirt and then we would pull the dirt out of the hole with our hands and a coffee can we found in the green building. We dug and dug and dug some more. This was no different than a long workout we thought. We worked in silence…getting the job done. Finally at 1:30AM we decided the hole was big enough. Our knees hurt…Our backs hurt…Our hands hurt from digging…Our finger nails were worn down to the quick. We slid the tree into the hole and it was nearly a perfect fit. Then we placed some dirt around the burlap sack covering the root ball. Tapped the dirt down with our angle iron making sure we left not foot prints…and no hand prints. Then we sat down on the concrete benches and admired our work. Yes, we concluded, this was the perfect park for the football field.
The Angle Iron
The way we had it figured the angle iron was the only thing connecting us to the digging. As we left I asked Tom and Don to give me the angle iron. I told them I would make it disappear. We got into our respective cars and each headed home anxious for Monday to arrive for news of our new park and to see who would take credit for…in our minds…our masterpiece.
As I headed north on Rt. 2 towards my home on Mt Carmel Ridge I crossed the Middle Island Creek Bridge. I stopped my parent’s car on the bridge and quickly tossed the angle iron over the edge into the Middle Island Creek below. Middle Island Creek is more like a river at this point so there was no fear of anyone ever seeing the angle iron again.
School Monday
On Monday, a day and a half later I arrived at school nervous and anxious. What would happen? Stickman, Beets and I made a pact and our pact of silence was in place. We would tell no one. Heck we’d hoodlamized numerous times over the years and no one ever suspected us. This would be no different. Someone else would take credit for it. Why were we confident of this? Someone else always took credit for it…and that was just fine with us.
Robbie Prim, the Hurdles and his 3 days of Vacation
We were confident because we remembered the time we set the hurdles up on the school roof. Our coach required our hurdlers to carry the hurdles into the locker room each Friday after practice for fear something would happen to the hurdles if they were left out over the weekend. On this particular weekend we were in the mood to do something and we knew the hurdles had been left out…again. Actually this made 2 weeks in a row they had been left out. We felt obligated to confirm our coach’s fear. So, we carried each hurdle up the outside stairs that serves as a fire escape for the 2nd floor of SMHS next to the Chemistry room (Back then these stairs were just outside Ms. Barnhart’s room. Ooooh yea...We boys liked her class a lot and it wasn’t because we liked Chemistry.). Near the top of the stairs you could, with little effort, step over onto the roof of the school. The cool thing about this roof was that when you were in a room on the 2nd floor on the northeast side of our school you could look out any window onto this roof. So we carried the hurdles up these stairs onto the roof…hurdle after hurdle. Then we set them up as if someone planned to hold hurdle practice on the roof of our school. We knew Coach Rea would be very upset and consequently our hurdlers would have some extra running and bear crawls on Monday.
On the Monday morning following our setting up of the hurdles on the roof, I sat in my homeroom wanting to look out the window. I couldn’t be the one that discovered the hurdles…someone would surely know it was me if I spotted them first. So, I sat there waiting for someone to look out our homeroom window. As I talked to Richard Steele, who sat in front of me in homeroom, I noticed he was looking towards the window. He then stood up and started laughing pointing towards the roof mentioning the hurdles. I never even got out of my seat…I looked like little Billy in the movie “Christmas Story” when they challenged their friend to stick his tongue to the flag pole and the teacher asked Billy where his friend Flick was…. “Flick...Flick who?” he responded. Anyone paying attention would have thought it odd that I just sat there looking at the chalk board. Eventually I joined in the laughter and people started speculating who had done it. Oh it was funny to everyone and I laughed along. It was a good way to start a Monday.
Later in the day I ran into Tom Hill in the hallway. He came up and asked me, “Did you hear?” “Hear what” I asked? “They caught the person that put the hurdles on the roof”, he said. I was confused as I looked at him. He was looking at me with a more serious face than I was used to seeing. I started feeling the pit in my stomach as he continued, “All day Robbie Prim has been bragging about putting the hurdles up there”, he said. I looked at Tom as we started to laugh. We knew someone would claim credit which is one of the things we got the biggest chuckle out of. Stickman continued, “Yea, I think he’s in trouble.” “Mr. Smith (our principle) just pulled him out of class”, he said. Later that same day we found out Robbie Prim got 3 days out of school suspension for telling people he set the hurdles up on the roof and then subsequently lying to Mr. Smith that he didn’t do it. He went around school claiming credit for something that he did not do and then when Mr. Smith called him on it he denied being the guilty person which Mr. Smith did not believe. His denying it to Mr. Smith made our principle mad and led him to give Robbie 3 days out of school suspension. We really felt bad that he got 3 days suspension for something he did not do, but we always thought he should have never taken credit for something he did not do in the first place. We did think it ironic that he got 3 days suspension for actually telling Mr. Smith the truth…because Robbie really did not do it.
23 Years After the 50 Yard Line Park
Amazingly, no one within SMHS took credit for planting the tree and making the park in the days, weeks and months that followed. It was presumed that folks from Frontier HS, our rivals across the Ohio River, had snuck into town and done the deed. The folks from the yearbook did take a photo of our park before it was dismantled. The photo made our 1983 SMHS yearbook (page #170--see photo top of this story). Tom, Don and I still laugh about it today. A few people outside of our little group know the real story. Tom, Don and I thought we’d fess up now that enough time has passed.
From here you must fast forward to Friday, March 25, 2005. I was at a track & field meet with my University of Richmond team when a former classmate from SMHS ran into me. We had spoken the year before and he knew that our team would be there. I really enjoyed seeing him and catching up on his family. I don’t want to mention a name here because I really do not want to embarrass him. As he and I sat there with my wife and my college teammate, Howard Nippert…my classmate from SMHS proceeded to explain how he had planted a tree on the football field back in high school. Of course my wife and Howard had each heard the story from me, Tom Hill and Don Harding numerous times over the years. Their heads jerked as they looked at me and then at my SMHS classmate. I was stunned. I asked my classmate to clarify what he was talking about and he proceeded to explain that the shovel he used to dig the hole is still in his dad’s garage. I was thinking that I wish we’d had a shovel that night… Again, I sat there stunned asking for more details as he added to the story referencing the photo in the 1983 yearbook. My mind drifted back to my loyal friends and the solemn pact we made on Saturday, October 23, 1982…to Robbie Prim…my high school teammates… and the great memories from those days…and just how lucky I was to have grown up in the small town of St. Marys. I walked out of the stadium with my cell phone and called Stickman in Waco, TX to tell him the latest development on our 23 year old “50 Yard Line Park” from 1982. He listened to the story and his laugh was exactly the same as it was that cool October night in 1982….Nothing had changed.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Q&A with Spiders Standout-Tim Quinn

This is the first in a series of Q & A with Spiders team members...

Tim Quinn... shown right... (pic#1) "his look" on January 30, '10 after a long run during a 12" snow storm in Richmond... and (pic#2) on his way to earning 1st Team All-Conference honors during the '09 XC season.
Junior, Tim Quinn (Pittsford, NY) is coming off a breakthrough fall cross country season for the University of Richmond. As a long distance runner on the Spiders track and field and cross country teams he set personal bests of 30:21 in the 10K at the prestigious Mt. SAC Relays in Los Angeles last spring. This fall he led the Spiders in every cross country meet, earned 1st Team All-Conference, narrowly missed All-Region honors and ran a personal best 24:20 for 8K at the Paul Short Invitational. He is also a standout student earning a spot on the All-Academic Team within the league.
We sat down to ask him a few questions about his experiences and future plans.

Question: This fall (2009) you were the top finisher in every cross country meet for the Spiders. How did you feel about the season?

Overall, I’m very happy with the season. There are still many things that I want to improve upon, but in general I made big strides from last year to this year. I had high goals for both the conference meet and the regional meet and I fell a little short of both, but now I know that those goals are realistic and I have the ability to compete with the best. As a team we competed hard and we definitely gained a lot of experience going into next fall where we expect to be one of the best teams in the NCAA.

Question: What do you feel was your best performance this fall?

Quinn: I think I had similarly good performances at the Paul Short Invitational, the Atlantic-10 meet and the NCAA Regional meet. At Paul Short, I set a new PR that was almost 30 seconds faster than my previous PR and I placed in the top 30 out of a big field, so that race gave me a lot of confidence. At the A-10 meet, the conditions were so sloppy that I wasn’t able to run my best race in terms of time or place, but I know that I dug deep in that race and I’m proud of the way I fought to get all-conference. I was also pleased with my 33rd place finish at Southeast Regional meet, which was loaded with top teams like UVA, Duke, Louisville, William and Mary and NC State as well as Liberty’s Sam Chelanga, though I’m definitely hungry for even better performances in the future.

Question: You have been successful in balancing academic and athletic success at the highest level as one of the top student-athletes at Richmond. How do you balance the two?

Quinn: I think that my running career has actually helped me balance my academic career more than anything else. With practices at 7:30 in the morning, I have to get to bed early to get my rest, which means I also have to get my work done early. I also try to communicate a lot with professors, and they’re always willing to meet with me outside of class to help with anything I might have missed while we were traveling for a meet. I guess I’m also lucky that my two majors, Political Science and French, aren’t exactly GPA-killers like some of the more rigorous science and math programs that we have here.

Question: What has been your most vivid memory to this point as part of the Spider team?

I think my favorite memory so far comes from our home track meet, the Fred Hardy Invitational, during my freshman outdoor track season. Matt Llano, Andrew Benford, Jonny Wilson and I were all competing against some good competition from VCU and a few other schools in the 3000-meter race. The four of us had also just gotten back from training together over spring break in Florida, and we worked together over the course of the race to sweep the top four spots in personal best times for all of us. Jonny and I passed a few people on the home stretch to secure the sweep, and it was a great feeling doing it as a team in front of our home fans. The next best is probably when Matt Llano qualified for Nationals at the NCAA Southeast Regional meet in 2008. He ran such and awesome race, and I was even lucky enough to accompany him on the trip to Terre Haute where he also ran great. Just being there at nationals was a great experience, and it made me determined to get back there someday as a team.

Question: Your teammates Matt Llano, Andrew Benford and Jon Wilson redshirted this cross-country season. How did that impact the team?

Quinn: The decision to redshirt Llano (29:06-10K), Benford (14:09-5K/8:51-3K steeple), and Wilson (24:27-5 miles) was done with the long-term vision of putting together the best cross-country team we can for the 2010 season. Unfortunately, we knew we were sacrificing to a degree the 2009 season in order to accomplish some pretty high goals next year. However, they were there every step of the season, encouraging and leading the team from the sidelines while doing just about every workout with us. I know that a lot of our freshmen and sophomores benefited from their absence at competitions because they were able to travel more and experience what big-time meets are like and to gain the experience that will help them enormously next year and even after we’ve graduated. It also helped me to see myself as a “front-runner” and to compete in the front pack of every race without being able to key off of Llano or Benford.

Question: Coach Taylor feels your leadership within the team this past fall was exceptional. What have you done differently to prepare for the leadership role?

I think the most important part of being a leader on the team is understanding Coach Taylor’s philosophy on training and fully embracing it. Over the last two years I’ve tried really hard to understand why we do what we do and now I’m in a position where I can help make that clear to the underclassmen who are new to the program what’s important in training. I’ve also keyed off of the leadership of my older teammates, like Jon Molz, Benford, Llano and Garrett Graham who have so much experience and have proved that they know what it takes to run fast. It’s also important to mean what you say, and to live the lifestyle of a dedicated runner, which means doing a lot of the small things like eating right, getting eight hours of sleep a night, lifting, getting treatment for injuries, etc.

Question: The depth of the Spiders distance program continues to improve with athletes that were not necessarily the top athletes within their respective states while in high school. How do you account for your improvement and the success of your team?

Quinn: That’s definitely true. In high school, I was probably one of the better runners in my section, but on paper I was hardly worth the time or effort for a Division-I coach to recruit me, and I’m so happy that I was on Coach Taylor’s radar at all. My PR for the 3200 meters in high school was 9:50, and yet by the time my first track race of my freshman year came around, I ran the equivalent of 30 seconds faster over the same distance. Later that year, I ran around 9:25 for the first 3200 meters of my 5,000 meter race at Junior Nationals. I think this improvement comes first and foremost from the incredible coaching that we get from Coach Taylor. He wants us to run fast, and he does an amazing job of making us work beyond what we believed we were capable of doing. We also have a really great group of fun guys and girls assembled here who are super-dedicated to our mission and put 100% into everything we do. Quite honestly, I never expected to be running this fast when I was in high school, and I’m blown away every day by how well the program here at Richmond has helped me to excel. What’s also amazing is how many people on the team also have experiences like mine, including seniors Benford, Llano, Graham and Wilson, and newcomers like Chris York, Jason Skipper, Conor Phelan and Alex Lochner who have already made astounding improvements.

Question: What will be your focus during the indoor and outdoor season’s?

During the next two seasons I plan to continue to focus on the longer races on the track, specifically the 3,000 meters to the 10,000 meters during the spring. I have some pretty fast times in mind to run, and I want to continue to improve my PRs so that I can come into next fall prepared to do what I need to do so that our team can accomplish some pretty amazing things. I definitely hope to qualify for the outdoor regional meet in either the 5k or the 10k with a shot at making nationals.