New joy of covering track to get boost Friday

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

One of the most unexpected surprises of my new job to this point has been the joy of covering a lot of track and field competitions, something which I cannot always say was the case.

I was raised a softball, baseball, basketball and football guy, and while I never played or coached football I fully grasp the intricacies of it.

I have been a varsity softball coach, junior varsity baseball coach and a basketball coach for kids from grades K-12, so those sports pose no problem for me in terms of knowing which questions to ask or whether things that happen are normal or uncommon.

While I have respect for the other sports, I cannot claim in my professional journalistic experience to have done the same quality of work for athletes in the sports with which I was less familiar.

Whether it's movies, books, TV shows or any other experience, I hate to be disappointed when my impression of the event afterwards is far lower than expected.

One of the best events I covered last fall for the Terre Haute Tribune-Star was the boys' soccer sectional championship match, which ended in penalty kicks, and my feelings afterwards far exceeded my pre-game expectations. I have seen or covered very few soccer matches, but through the assistance of a high school classmate of mine whose kid was on one of the teams I was walked through the proceedings and it turned out as a truly awesome experience.

I would put the tension of seeing the various players go through the penalty kick phase hand-in-hand, if not superior to, a free throw or field goal with no time on the clock or a bases-loaded pitch with a full count and two outs in the bottom of the last inning. It was great.

My track and field expertise was previously limited to comparing times and getting coach quotes about which athletes performed well.

I don't have the popular T-shirt that says "I don't run. And if you see me running, you should run too because something is probably chasing me" -- but I would have to be considered in the target demographic market.

This spring has changed my knowledge of and appreciation for runners, throwers and jumpers.

The last "College Report" column I did in Terre Haute this spring was on a University of Iowa-bound distance runner from Terre Haute North named Lindsay Welker, who will be making her third straight appearance in the state finals this week in the 800 after overcoming foot problems earlier this spring.

I learned a lot about training and injuries from talking to her and her coaches, and some of my initial work here involved talking to local collegiate runners Claudia Monnett, Colleen Weatherford and Ariel Higgins and their coaches.

Through those conversations, I have vastly increased my knowledge about what it takes to be a good runner and what things to look for during races.

The local high school track and field scene is also very bright, as I figured it would be before my arrival here. The "College Report" list of spring sports athletes from Putnam County which I had been compiling for several years has always had more athletes in track and field than most of the other sports combined.

This spring has further enhanced that impression, and there seems to be a large number of young athletes -- and others who are just departing middle school -- which will keep the local track and field strong for many years to come.

That group is highlighted by, but hardly limited to, Greencastle's regional champion freshman distance runner Emma Wilson and Cloverdale sophomore hurdler Tyler Kaeff, also a regional champ.

It will be interesting to watch them, Greencastle high jumper J.T. Matthews, Cloverdale 800-meter runner Nick Blundell and the Greencastle 4x100 relay team compete this weekend in the state finals against their best competition yet. Blundell's second-place regional performance was the individual highlight so far, considering he finished two spots higher than he was seeded and was able to overcome a long-standing rivalry to defeat a nemesis from Brown County.

There's not much cooler than seeing people meet their own expectations and conquer goals others may have thought unattainable.

In the past year alone I have been fortunate enough to cover Wabash Valley area teams at the IHSAA state finals in cross country, baseball, football and basketball, but this will be my first time at the state track finals.

Veteran Greencastle coach Garry Anderson says it's an incredible experience, and with as many trips as he's made not many people could have a better idea of what it's like than him.

Can't wait.

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