Posted tagged ‘Ironton Ohio’

My Varsity “I” Jacket

December 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        December 29, 2018

                               

I had saved my money up, mowing lawns all summer for people like Mrs. Unrue at the end of Thomas Street. She paid well…$4.00 for mowing and trimming! With her weekly payment and the money from a couple of other “cheaper” customers I finally had enough. The Varsity “I” Jacket was ordered from Bob Lynn’s Sporting Goods. In the summer of 1970 it cost me just a hair under $30!

I had earned it- that is, earned the right to have it- by lettering in track the previous sophomore season for Ironton High School, the pride of Ironton, Ohio. My 5’6”  (if I stretched out when being measured) and a hundred pound body had run a lot of laps around ovals during that season. I had expected to be a sprinter, but at our first meet at Fairland High School, Coach Bill Trent had said, “Hey! Does anyone want to run in the two mile. We need another varsity runner!”

All I heard were the words “need another varsity runner!” I didn’t even know how many laps two miles would be. I soon discovered it was eight! Eight…that’s about seven more than I wanted to do!

The day was rainy and the wind was blowing…and I never took my black sweats off even during the race! Lo, and behold! I finished 4th…out of 5! Someone else from Fairland with less desire than me trudged even slower than my feet! But I had gotten 4th in a triangular meet, and that meant 1 point for the Flighting Tigers and, more importantly, one point towards earning my varsity letter. As I remember it, a runner needed to average a point each meet and there were about ten meets that season.

By the end of that track season I had dropped my two mile time from “just behind the sloth” to 10:56, finished 5th in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League meet at Ohio University…and had earned my varsity letter! 

When my orange jacket with dingy white sleeves came in at the beginning of September I looked at the calendar to figure out what coming event I needed to wear it to. That next Friday night was the first home football game at Ironton’s Tank Memorial Stadium. It was 80 degrees humid and, but I wore my jacket. The growling tiger head on the back of it was cool, but the capital “I” on the front meant that I was one of the athletic elite!

Perspiration flowed down my face that night, but I sensed that several young ladies were looking at me with new eyes and considering my potential. I felt sticky inside the heavy garment but kept wearing it. If I took it off I might appear to, once again, be one of the commoners. I hadn’t been mowing Mrs. Unrue’s lawn for the last four months for my status to be taken off so quickly!

I toughed it out!

I still have that jacket! It hangs in the closet of our guest bedroom, impressing no one and being worn by…no one! I tried it on a while ago. It didn’t fit! The sleeves stop about three inches above my wrists like they’re afraid of going further. The snaps in the front keep their distance from one another.

In  1970 I really had to still grow into it. In 2018 I’ve long since grown out of it. So now it hangs in the closet, befriending other garments from the past, like a nostalgic museum of a long gone era.

Cross-Country Return

May 13, 2018

 WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 13, 2018

                          

I received the good news this week. Next school year I’ll be coaching middle school cross-country. It’s a return, in many ways, to my roots!

When I was a junior in high school I started running cross-country. My path had been pre-determined by the previous school year’s track program. At a cold early April triangular meet at Fairland High School in Proctorville, Ohio, the Ironton High School head track coach, Bill Trent, had asked if anyone was interested in running in the two mile race that day. Our team needed another runner to compete, or at least jog. Although I had been the Wood County, West Virginia, eight year old 50 yard dash champion…that had been almost eight years in the rearview mirror. This was my chance to run varsity…as a sophomore!

“But it’s Twwwooooo Miles!”

And it was cold with a chilling rain mist making it even more miserable! 

“I’ll run, Coach!”

“Okay, Billy! Do the best you can!”

I don’t remember my time that day…something like fourteen minutes! I remember that I wasn’t last, beat a couple of other runners, endured the wet wind on the back stretch, and scored a point for our team with a fourth place finish. 

And suddenly I was a distance runner! My time dropped three minutes in the next few weeks and I finished the season with a fifth place finish at the league meet in Athens. It paved the way for the fall cross-country season, and a summer of running on top of the flood walls of Ironton. 

Lance Clanton was the cross-country coach. I don’t think Coach Clanton had much experience with running, but IHS needed someone to keep a pack of running fools in line. During the school day he was the industrial arts teacher. He is the only industrial arts teacher I have ever met who was also a cross-country coach! 

We were a mediocre team not quite understanding the race tactics and practice ideas of the new school sport. Our home course include one part where we ran down into a dump area next to the school, affectionately called “the Sand Pit”, and back up again. Interval training was a foreign concept. One goofy runner named Eugene would climb a tree and wait for everyone to come back past him on a route we would run from the high school down to the cemetery and back. Actually, we were all a bit goofy, a few nerds before that term became commonplace, a couple of athletes, and a few others thrown into the mix who had nothing better to do after school.  

Two years after that I was wearing a t-shirt that had Miami of Ohio on the front of it. I was 16th man on a sixteen man roster, which means I was able to wear the t-shirt, run in the home meets, and endure the exhausting practices. Miami finished 7th at the NCAA nationals that year. I was not a factor in their success, but it did teach me a lot about what cross-country is and isn’t!

Two years later I was arriving on the small campus of Judson College in Elgin, Illinois to complete the last two years of my college education. Soon after I arrived I met Don Kraus, the cross-country coach, and his assistant, Ed Allen. They welcomed me with open arms, although I would not be eligible to compete that first year. Judson didn’t have a track, but cross-country fit well there, and we would run through campus laughing and sporting our Eagles’ warm-ups. At Judson I came to value the importance of relationships of my teammates. I can still remember each one of them…Stan Brown (who was one of my groomsmen), Jim Fay, Duane “the lumberjack” Young, Larry Crane, Kevin Kelly, Tom Randall, Mark Diehl, our manager, Tim “Ratman” Etternick, our coaches, and our trainer, Dr. Stuart Ryder…professor of English by day and “ice and bandage guy” by night.

We were a decent team, finishing sixth at the NCCAA nationals my senior year. Notice I put an extra “C” in there. The NCCAA stands for National Christian College Athletic Association, a bit less prime-time than the other organization with one less letter, but not nearly as plagued by scandal and populated by cheaters either!

And now…forty-two years after that I’ll be returning to the sport I always enjoyed and the challenges of training young runners, many whom are totally clueless about how long the race is that they will be expected to complete. I prepared for this return by coaching the distance runners at the same middle school, Timberview, this spring. The whining of seventh and eighth grade runners is like sweet music to my ears. It will be awesome to encourage the runners this coming August that they CAN do it, they CAN succeed, they CAN be something more than they thought they could ever be. 

Bill Ball, Mr. Encouragement

August 1, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              August 1, 2017

                                

God graces our lives with various saintly people who may simply say a kind word, give us a nudge in the right direction, or travel with us for a while in our journey of life. Those of us fortunate enough have some of these saints watch us grow up and become like “angels with skin on” who ponder our maturing and pray that our life has continued purpose and depth.

I’ve been blessed numerous times by the cloud of witnesses who have followed my wanderings. One of them passed on to Glory yesterday. He was one of my dad’s best friends…kind of like the last men standing, as Dad is now 89 and his friend, Bill Ball, was in his early nineties!

To me, Mr. Bill Ball was Mr. Encouragement! Our families attended the same church, even sat on the same side of the aisle, although Bill and Sue Ball sat a few rows closer to the back door and my parents were a few rows closer to the choir. As I progressed through high school my parent’s leash got longer and I was allowed to sit with my friends in another pew, but just about every Sunday Bill Ball would head towards me after the morning worship service and ask me how I was doing?

He became interested in my high school running progress. I can still remember him giving me a couple of pieces of coaching advice. Specifically, he told me to work on lengthening my stride just a bit. It was when I was heading into my senior year, and his encouragement to work on that one aspect of my race helped me break the school mile record that had stood for over a decade. But it wasn’t just advice he gave me! It was “encouraging advice!” Bill Ball showed me the difference. Encouraging advice gives the listener the confident belief that what is being told to him can become the soon to be reality! I can remember several times, when after a Sunday morning conversation with Mr. Ball, I wanted to go out for a run that afternoon. There are people who make you feel like the world is against you so why even get out of bed, and then there are people like Bill Ball who make you believe no mountain is too high for you to climb!

“Mr. Optimistic” had bought himself a new car about six months before his passing at the age of 92! He lived a life of possibilities. Each day was a new opportunity, a new adventure. Each time I’d come from Colorado for a visit Dad and I would try to get together with Mr. Ball for lunch at Rax Roast Beef or Frisch’s Big Boy. For some reason I still remember that he ordered a Brawny Lad the last time we had lunch together. Each shared lunch was another occasion of laughter, sharing old stories, and…encouragement!

I’m feel very fortunate to be back in Ohio visiting Dad this week. It means I’ll be able to be the encourager to his three awesome daughters, perhaps being able to share with them just a hint of how their dad motivated me to run faster and encouraged me to be who I wasn’t sure I could be!