By BRAD KEITH
KINGSVILLE (October 21, 2017) — Cross country is boring. There is no emotion.
By the time conference meets roll around for college teams and district meets for high school harriers, everyone knows who is going to win based on previous times and places. There is so little mystery to it you can almost pre-fill the order teams and – thanks to websites such as athletic.net – even the individuals will finish in.
Brad Keith has covered Erath County sports through journalism or radio since 2000. His periodical columns have been a part of The Flash Today local sports coverage since 2014.
And once you’re there, you’re going to watch them take off from the starting line, hustle to a spot on the course where can see your school’s harriers race by but that allows you to get back near the start/finish area before they hit the home stretch then stand pat while, slowly, and by now, with a long spread between them, each runner completes the course.
After attending the Lone Star Conference Cross Coutry Championships in Kingsville on Saturday – I know, I know…what in the hell was Brad Keith doing six hours from home at a cross country meet? I’m getting there, I promise – and having just more than a week ago witnessed the District 8-4A Cross Country Championships at Dinosaur Valley State Park just outside Glen Rose, I can tell you this about the above three paragraphs:
Bull crap, not even close and hog wash.
Tarleton assistant athletic director for development Byron Anderson, Tarleton assistant athletic communications director Ryan Cox, Tarleton Athletic Communications graduate assistant and cross country media contact Savion Washington and yours truly ventured into Kingsville wayyyy early for this evening’s football game. I recall knowing the conference cross country fiasco was happening “sometime over the next few days somewhere around Kingsville,” but I soon learned it was at a golf course on the edge of town and that, oh yes, we were all going.
Now, it doesn’t bother me at all to kill two birds with one stone, and how often will I really be able to cover the conference cross country meet in years Tarleton doesn’t host it? So I wasn’t reluctant, so to speak, to cover it, but I wasn’t painting my face with Tarleton T’s, like all the TexAnn runners or doing cartwheels of excitement for getting to be there.
But I do like Pat Ponder, and am a big believer in the type of coach he is. He’s knowledgable, expert even, when it comes to running sports, but all that brain power and strategy comes second to the fact that this guy just loves coching kids and loves the kids he coaches. He absolutely invests a grew deal of himself into their lives and seeing them succeed while under his tutelage as young adults first, students second and athletes third. He strives also to be sure when they leave his watch, they do so well set up to become positive contributors to their families, communities, jobs and society throughout adulthood.
I have digressed, but suffice it to say, it’s fun to watch guys like Pat Ponder perform their craft. It’s fun to watch great coaches.
So there I was, not totally excited, but certainly not upset, standing next to a fire ant bed on something that kind of resembled a golf course in the coastal bend region of our great state, at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, for, yes, cross country.
I didn’t really know what to expect. Ponder seemed to feel like they would do okay, so I just believed him. We watched the start, then hiked out to the middle of the course where we could get photos and video of the Tarleton women passing by. Once we saw a couple passes and noticed we had a young lady in second and another in the top 10, we hurried to the finish line.
Were the TexAnns, after hundreds of miles traversed in training throughout the fall – and Lord only knows how many in their lives leading up to this point- really in contention to win it all?
We knew a young lady from Midwestern had run away up front , and we knew our first Tarleton harrier held on for second. Scrambling around at the finish, though, I wasn’t real sure where they were at as far as the number of runners already in, so I was relying on Ponder, who was relying on assistant coach Ryan Gibson, who was the hardest working Kingsville trying to sort it all out.
I made brief eye contact with Ponder and walking past he muttered, “I think we won it, Brad, I’m pretty sure we won this thing.”
Now, understand I love me some Twitter, so Ponder was hugging his athletes and I was tweeting that UNOFFICIALLY Tarleton is believed to have won the LSC womens’ title.
Okay. that was fun.
It got real interesting about a half hour later when my phone was dead in my pocket, my computers hundreds of yards away in a parked SUV, and here comes Ryan with instructions from Nate Bural, Tarleton diretor of athletic communications who has ben a close friend of mine for a decade (hard to believe it’s ben that long) for me to delete that Tweet.
I tell Ryan my phone’s dead, and while normally I would be upset about having shared wrong information, I for some reason felt a “hold up wait a minute” revelation was coming. I just couldn’t fathom Pat Ponder telling me they won if he wasn’t really, really close to positive that was the case.
We got back to the finish line, me having convinced myself not to charge after something to use to delete that Tweet (gut feeling), and soon enough we caught up to a beaming Ponder. His guys hadn’t won, his girls hadn’t, either, so why the big smile?
“They didn’t catch our Number 5 coming in!” he exclaimed, and I knew right then.
Missing Tarleton’s fifth runner coming across the line meant everyone who finished before Tarleton’s sixth runner bumped the TexAnns’s up another point in the team standings. It was enough to knock them into a tie for second. The correction, however, was enough for a one-point victory, just like in 2015, when the TexAnns won their first conference title.
Best part of this revelation – I had a camera and Ponder by my side and the ladies didn’t know yet. I stalked behind him – dang, he walks fast – and even when he got there and grabbed the first girl on his team and told her congratulations, she just thought he meant on the season in general and on placing second.
Then he grabbed another and spilled the beans. “Congratulations on being a conference champion.”
There was an awkward moment of silence as the realization of what was happening set in, and then jaws dropped, tears and emotion absolutely exploded and, well don’t take it from me. I’ll let Andelynn Carlton. a junior on this team, and as a freshman in 2015 the first two-time conference team champ in the sport in Tarleton history, tell you about he next few moments herself…
…The looks on those faces were priceless. Phone calls made to moms and dads and boyfriends and whoever would anwer to say they were wrong, we’re the champs.
They all ended up in a tight circle together on the ground, then standing and more hugging, then one-by-one hugging their beloved coach once more.
It was a great moment in the history of Tarleton athletics, one I was blessed to be there to catch in person, so I could appreciate the raw emotion of it as it happened, blow by blow, being told they thought they won, being informed that wasn’t the case then being absolutely shocked straight to tears by the news: YOU ARE THE CHAMPIONS INDEED.
I don’t know what we would have done to burn away the morning hours waiting for a 7 p.m. kickoff to a football radio broadcast, but I can tell you this – it would not have been as rewarding to share as what we saw on something resembling a golf course covered in fire ants on the edge of Kingsville, Texas.
They hoisted the trophy, stretched their banner, interviews were conducted, then as fast as we arrived at this thing called cross country, we were gone again Byron driving, Ryan, Savion and myself all typing away on our computers. We are finishing up outside the restaurant right now at 1:30 p.m., still plenty of time before our broadcast this evening.
And we’re all stoked we got to see school history made and tears of joy shed. And, being the Tarleton people that we are, you know we’re walking in to eat with our heads a little higher and our chests puffed out just a bit more.
Our school, our girls are conference champs. You can say it’s just cross country but today we learned otherwise.
It’s Intense and exciting, and for a group of young ladies representing our school, who poured so much of their lives into it, today is a day to remember and celebrate.
For today, Tareton was crowned champion, but not without drama that even a scriptwriter would not have imagined possible.
I saw a hint of it when Stephenville’s boys, without one of their best runners, still placed second in District 8-4A, and I witnessed the hugs that Coach Kristi Mayes shared with each member of her team, and the emotion was strong there.
But this, this was another level. The raw explosion brought on by shocking revelation. It was overwhelming to say the least.
Cross country isn’t boring, and it isn’t nearly as predictable as you think.
Try explaining how predictable it is to the West Texas A&M girls calling back their moms, dads and boyfriends, and saying something like, never mind we lost. They screwed up and told us we won. I don’t want to talk about it,”….
Thell the Lady Buffs cross country isn’t emotional.
Then go ahead and try to tell the TexAnns, too.