Tales from the Crypt Pt. 1
Glory Days of a Football State Champion
“Masters! Get over here!” Bellowed coach Albright.
“What did I tell you?”
“Not to block the extra point in practice.”
“And you did it again! Bear crawl to Bancroft and back!”
Yep, I was a football player up until my junior year in high school at St. Francis DeSales in Toledo, Ohio, and bear crawling to Bancroft St. was a familiar drill for me. I was a third-string safety and wide receiver that weighed in at a whopping 125 lbs and stood 5’6” my sophomore year. My days were numbered! To top it off in 1984 (my sophomore year), the varsity football team won the DI State Title. This tremendous achievement would never have been possible, in my opinion, without my tireless efforts as a tackling dummy for varsity. As you walk through the hallowed halls of SFS, you will find the official State Championship team picture hanging in the Athletic Hall of Fame. If you were to get up close and personal to the picture, you would see the top half of my face peeking over the shoulder pad of a truer version of a football player...BUT I am in the picture forever!!!
There is a Sport Called Track & Field?
The extent of my running career at that time was pole vaulting in track my freshman and sophomore year, so I came upon distance running literally by accident. I joined track my freshman year to do something in the spring, and it was a brand new sport to me because all I knew about was football, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Pole vault looked cool, so I decided that was the event for me. But little did I know that I had no intention of ever putting my ass above my head while in mid air...ever! My first day actually vaulting was a disaster and set me on my path to distance running.
We were vaulting in the gym, but we did not have an indoor vaulting box to drop the pole into. The coach informed us that we would be jamming the pole into the mat where it met the gym floor. THIS WAS MY FIRST TIME EVER VAULTING!!! I thought, ok, he’s the coach, he knows what he is doing...right? Right? Turns out I was wrong on all accounts!!! He did not know what he was doing, and I accidentally jammed the pole UNDER the mat. This slight error in pole placement sent me careening away from the sanctuary of the mats and toward the much unforgiving gym floor. I braced for impact by putting both hands down to reach for the floor and break my fall. This Bruce Lee-esque move did break my fall, as well as my left wrist.
Now that my left wrist was in a cast, the head coach, Mark Lewis, decided to make me a mid-distance runner for the remainder of the season. Coach Lewis was the dean of the school, French teacher, and also the cross country coach at the time. He was my very first running coach, and I began to train with other 400-800 meter runners for the remainder of the season. The only things I remember about the season were that it was short, and I did not like running with that cast on at all! At the end of the season, coach Lewis pulled me aside and gave me his best pitch to come on out and join the cross country team in the summer and fall. I was having none of that! I’m no wuss...I play a man’s sport, football. Why would I even consider wearing a tank top and really small shorts as my uniform? I wish I could pull freshman Bob aside, slap him across the face, and tell him to get his ass out there with the CC team! Alas, it would be another year before I would run cross country.
Doubling Down on Track!
With the memory of a snapped wrist still lingering in my head, I was hesitant about the upcoming track season my sophomore year, so I slowly inched away from the glamour of pole vault. There was no way on God’s green earth that I would let go of the pole under any circumstance and could not clear any height at a meet. Although my pole vaulting career was a bust, I was doing well with my 800-meter training and began to find my people in the mid-distance group because it was a mix of cc runners and football players. Mark Lewis had stepped down from coaching track, and my new coach was Rob Erb, who pushed me beyond what I thought was hard work. Coach Erb was the first coach to explain a crucial tenet in running: In order to be good at this sport, pain is necessary. How much was I willing to hurt in order to be successful?
Well, running with coach Erb that year opened my eyes up to a whole new world of exertion and pain. I had no idea how much pain was truly involved in racing until my sophomore year. Once I was able to wrap my head around this concept, my training and racing got a lot better in a short amount of time.
My sophomore track season ended with my best friend from high school, Chip Tokar, nagging me that I had to run cross country with him. My farthest race at the time was 800 meters on a nice smooth track surface, which is a half-mile equivalent. For some reason, my delusional friend thought that a 3.1 mile race over hill and dale was no big deal! I was appalled that he felt the two were even closely related and I questioned our friendship. Eventually he and others on the track team wore me down, and I realized that my future was going to be inside that tank top and short shorts for my last two years of high school…
Tales From the Crypt Pt. 2 will continue with my first ever cross country season and senior year!