Must be Track Season...

A look at the Atlanta 10-day forecast calls for 70 degrees, warm and sunny one day, while dropping to 28, windy, and cold the next. Flash flood warnings are in effect Tuesday, followed by snow followed by balmy temperatures.

Only one thought pops into my head as I read this: Hmm, must be track season...

I stand now at practice, looking at these small, un-athletic looking bodies - all angled and elbowed and slight. It makes me smile - at this sport and who and what it attracts. I try and picture if one were made to go out for football - picture him hitting the sled and falling backwards. Blocking the tackling dummy only to be tackled. Putting on the football letter jacket that's eight sizes too large.

After all, jackets our size have to be tailor made. I myself, just ordered a ring at girl size - the man-size version would be the "murder weapon special," covering all of my finger and most of my hand.

The kids chatter among themselves on this windy day - a day I need to put rocks in a couple of pockets to keep them from flying off into the pole vault pit. I do nothing to stop this talking, this flirting, syllables flying at 700 words per minute with gusts up to 1000.

Let them chatter; it's why I love this sport so much. This running thing - what we do and coach - is their own well-deserved ticket into athleticism, respect, letters, banquets, adulation and the like. Runners earn this in their own way, with suffering yet simplicity.

Most do it by running into each other, hitting a ball harder, exerting still more pressure. These kids do it inwardly, reaching still further and further inside. Inside - always inside. And in the end, though we've out-muscled and out-machoed absolutely no one, our trophy shines just as bright; the top rung of our podium still extends equally as high.

Running shoes. Shorts. A T-shirt. That's all that's required. On training days, boundaries aren't even needed. We have two rules: No one runs alone. And QUIT running in the neighbor's yards!

They will break both those rules, and often. Still, I smile. There's a weirdness to the track & field world that can't be duplicated. You either get it or you don't. Most people hear a gun fire and run for cover. Track coaches start their watches while goosebumps fill their arms.

In moving on, it's Valentine's Day as I write this. Still, the ones before me aren't handing out candy hearts or ordering bouquets from the nearest florist. Instead, they're laughing about the good deals they get if they wait until the 15th and get the chocolates for discount.

And the major questions of the day aren't dates and love and romance and roses.

"Who's got the spike kit?" "How are we going to put the poles in that little van?" "Are we going to have enough to do the 4 X 400?"

For the record, it's cold and windy, soon to be erased by sunny, followed by flash floods. Yet for me, it's collecting bus keys, finding yellow legal pads to record times, eagerly await that beautiful sound of guns firing across Marietta and Roswell and Alpharetta and Rome. Watching pencil-thin kids' faces light up when they stare at their watches. Or limp off in tears.

Yes, it is track season.

And that, in itself, makes me smile...

Dunn Neugebauer