Dunn Neugebauer Column: Cold Weather Track Coaching

Across the frozen tundra of Carrollton, the A Private boys race for glory at State. (photos Dan McCauley)

It's mid-February -- do you know where your track team is? There they come, clad in short pants and a t-shirt even though it's 36 degrees outside with the wind chill set at a balmy 25. One of your girls actually has on a tank top; you're prone to exaggerate as a writer but you can almost swear you see icicles coming off both her shoulder blades.

You're clad in 17 layers; you had on a hat but the 30 mile-per-hour winds just blew it somewhere between Roswell Road and Hammond. You had feet when you left your office, but the feeling of those 10 toes left somewhere between the starting line and the 100-meter mark. Still, life goes on and those kids -- who will live forever and cold weather doesn't even exist -- simply flirt and giggle and set their watches while they wait. You give them the workout, but who can understand a word with your mask on? At the risk of spreading germs to your kids and the unsuspecting public, you lower it and speak clearly, or at least you think you do.

Off they go for their mile warm-up. One of your girls, that poor thing, only weighs about 74 pounds so the wind moves her from lanes 1 to 4 to 6 and back again. Still, there's a good story going on among the four of them so none of them seem to notice. They just bob and sway and giggle and jog. You laugh, or you try to, though your words get coughed out, muffled; they succeed then immediate fail at making any sense -- think an AM radio on static if you will. 

Suddenly, your trainer appears on the steps. He's a sane soul, dressed in four coats, a hat, and gloves, and his voice is VERY clear as he yells across the lanes. "Put on your warm-ups and your sweats! This is a rule. You can NOT be out here in shorts and a t-shirt." The kids stop, look up, ponder. One puts her hand on her side, kicks her foot out, considers, and then, "Do we have to?"

As for you, you wonder. What makes a real feel 25-degree day NOT be cold to high school kids? Do you have to reach a certain age? Does your skin thin with the election of each new president, or on odd leap years?

Still, you're wise, or at least you should be. You calculate the effort of the one-mile split, into a monsoon; using only Coach Jayaraj's brain and your #2 pencil. He figures two of those, then a 20-minute cooldown, with the wind, then stretch. Indoors.

Your kids roll their eyes, laugh at how old you are, wonder just what the problem is. In their world, they are outside, not in a class, no one is lecturing, so why can't they just run and jump and play?

Off they go, or shall you say, off they blow - around that track. You yourself have rocks in your pocket, ballast if you will, though they just choose to battle the elements that they don't even feel and are yet to understand. Still, you've learned -- one of the most important things about coaching is not knowing what to say, but rather when to shut up and leave well enough alone.

With that, you watch them stick and move, dodge and weave, as they giggle off into the sunset. As for you, you throw your clipboard into the air, and you laugh while it blows into the wild blue yonder - probably to join that hat you once owned.