Archive for Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Fly Route

August 16, 2007

It took a bit of a journey, but deep in the heart of Kill Creek Streamway Park, I found an answer I wasn't expecting.

This will no doubt come as a surprise, but sometimes I can be prejudice.

This column isn't about Don Imus or the media's handling of the Duke Lacrosse case, however. Rather, it's about my preconceived notions about this year's Eudora cross country team.

Simply put, I didn't expect much.

Why would I? Rare is a team as gutted by graduation as the Eudora team was this season.

The talent the team lost was unprecedented, but it wasn't just about losing the talent. It was about losing personalities. In the two years I covered Paul Boone's cross country teams, it's been obvious that they're far more than just a team. It seems they're closer to a family.

The kids and their coaches didn't confine their friendships to the fall's short season, nor did they confine their workouts to either themselves or to those three months at the start of school. Boone didn't confine their daily routes and routines to anything predictable, choosing rather to haul the kids all over the area for practices. They didn't confine their competitions to the area either, opting to head out of state several times when other area teams continued hitting up the local cross country meets with an ever-growing monotony.

Last year's seniors seemed as at the core of that as Boone was. Cody Burns and Brittney Graff were team staples and along with Joey Chino, some of the best competitors in the entire state.

Together, they seemed to enjoy every second of Boone's leadership, and every second of their time together -- my evidence of that is witnessing Graff line up pictures at every meet. Nary an occasion went by without her pushing, pulling and corralling her teammates into another group picture. Somewhere, there's one heck of a collection.

So no, when I showed up to cross country practice to take pictures for this week's article I didn't expect much.

After an hour watching this season's team carve its way through the woods I can say I was wrong.

I didn't have a stopwatch and the kids weren't racing, so I can't say whether they'll be competitive with the times or places from the last few years. I would guess not, but that has more to do with the age and maturity of some of this year's runners -- mostly underclassmen -- with that of last year's seniors.

I saw the potential, however. These kids are young, but Burns and Graff were once just freshman, as well.

Most importantly, though, my reason for believing came in between the workouts. It came as the team took a few minutes to splash in the cool waters of Kill Creek. It came in their presence at the park at all. Watching them I realized that even without last year's cogs, this is still more than a team. Even without the super seniors, it's still a family, and that is what's at the root of the team's success over the last few seasons.

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