Posted tagged ‘Ironton Ohio’

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!