A generation ago, Keith Williams was winning state titles in distance events for Norwood High School. Today, his son Ty tends the fire--running for Telluride in the fall and Norwood in the spring.
That encouragement and instruction you heard Ty Williams getting at the state track meet back in May? It came from a trusted and familiar source--the AD of his high school. In real life, the AD doubles as his father.
And that relationship embodies more of a story than meets the eye.
My first hint that there was more to the story came when I was going through old newspaper microfilms to fill out some state cross country meet history on Colorado Track XC. In the 1978 state meet results I came across a familiar last name from a school that had never appeared elsewhere in state meet results--Norwood High School.
"7th place - Williams, Norwood."
Could it be? Williams isn't exactly an uncommon surname. But Norwood, roughly midway between Cortez and Grand Junction on the edge of the Uncompahgre National Forest, is a smallish community. And the spacing was about right for a generation to have passed.
When I made an inquiry, I discovered there was indeed more to the story, and even more than I had anticipated.
The 1978 state cross country meet was one of three cross country races that Keith Williams ever ran in high school. His high school track coach persuaded him to run cross country his senior year of high school. The seventh-place finish at the 1978 state cross country meet was the culmination of that abbreviated exercise.
"Coach Harrison talked me into running cross country. I wasn’t really enthused about it, and knew absolutely nothing about. I trained for about a month, ran two races and participated in the state meet."
It was in track, rather, that the elder Williams made his mark in high school. Keith Williams ran a personal best 4:21 mile at the BYU Cougar Invitational as a senior. Later that spring, he would set the 1A state meet record for the mile with a time of 4:27.4.
He wouldn't have long to enjoy the notoriety of the record, however, as the record was retired the next spring when state meet distances converted to meters.
Keith Williams would go on to run in college, but it was a career marred by overuse injuries--including four stress fractures--from high mileage.
Although the running career of Keith Williams ended with little fanfare, it was nevertheless an extension of a family legacy. Dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, Keith Williams had several relatives, on both sides of his family, who became accomplished runners in Norwood. The one in particular who served as inspiration and motivation was his grandfather, Boyd Oliver.
"He had picture frames of medals he won in the late 1920s. That was my inspiration."
But, in the years between 1978 and 2009, things started to go quiet. During some of this period, Keith Williams served as the track (and basketball) coach in Norwood, but there was little in the way of distance medals brought home from the state meet.
The signs that change was in the wind starting coming in the spring of 2006. As a sixth-grader, young Ty Williams began winning 1600s and 800s against junior high competition. In Ty's words, "I've been hooked ever since."
Ty reached high school in the fall of 2008. The first uniform he wore, however, was not the familiar blue and white of Norwood, but the maroon and white of Telluride. And that requires some explanation.
Although the histories of Norwood and Telluride, some 30 miles apart by Colorado Highway 145, are as divergent as divergent comes, the small sizes of both schools (Norwood High School's most recent enrollment is listed as 86, Telluride's as 173) has become the occasion of increasing athletic cooperation between the two schools.
Telluride has no football program, but co-ops several students each year into Norwood's eight-man football program. Norwood hasn't had cross country since the one-man, one-month experiment of 1978, but Ty Williams has taken advantage of the opportunity to compete under the coaching of Keith Hampton at Telluride since entering high school. A track and field cooperative between the two schools may be in the offing.
In Ty's first season of running for the Miners, he finished 19th at the state meet, clocking a time of 18:22. It was an inauspicious first effort at the state meet, all the more so considering that he had finished a very competitive third in 18:06 at the regional meet a week prior. Things would go slightly better at the state track meet in the spring. Running for Norwood as the only freshman in the field, Williams finished fifth in the 3200.
Despite the hints of promise in his freshman year, the younger Williams would have to wait until his sophomore year for things to take off.
After dominating the western slope small schools circuit throughout the entire 2009 cross country season, Ty Williams came to state at the top of a short list of 2A boys with a chance to win it all. Williams did not disappoint, capturing the state title by a whopping 31 seconds, finishing in 16:34.
Back again to state track in the spring, and Williams would finish second in the 2A 3200, then 4th in the 2A 3200. At the state track meet, Shawn Dubbs--a senior at Cripple Creek-Victor, had his number. It didn't help that Willliams managed only a personally disappointing 10:09 in the state 3200 after posting a 9:46 at the (Grand Junction) Tiger Invitational earlier in the month.
In barely more than a month, Ty Williams will be back competing in the maroon and white of Telluride. The bulk of his season will be much the same as it was last year--running the circuit of western slope races. It would seem a safe assumption that he will be back competing in the 2A state meet in October as a junior.
If that assumption works out, he will have the opportunity to take a step closer to a goal only a few Colorado high school boys have ever attained--three consecutive individual state titles. If achieved, that would put Ty Williams in the company of such notables as Adam Goucher, Andy Montanez, and John McGuire.
But it will be a long and winding road to travel. It isn't necessarily easy going to one school, competing for another school 30 miles away, and all the while attending to ranch chores that can't be put off.
Keith Williams describes his high school training like this, "My workouts consisted of running to and from school. I would run to town [five miles] and eat breakfast with my Grandma and Granddad Williams. At night I would run home and sometimes use the power poles to do some interval training.... I could beat the bus home from school and be working on my chores at the ranch."
While the location of breakfast may have changed for Ty Williams, much of the routine of his father's training has passed down a generation. "We live on a ranch, and being by yourself is an everyday thing. You have to be self motivated to do it here."
During cross country season, Ty only occasionally ventures over to Telluride, "I do most of my training in Norwood. I try to make a practice in Telluride once a week. Coach Hampton and my dad were both runners, so I have good resources."
For Williams, however, this season may not be as much of an individual adventure as his first two years of high school cross country turned out to be. Arguably, Telluride has the strongest returning set of runners from last year's state meet. Assuming things work out between soccer and cross country at Telluride High School, the Miners could be a bona fide contender for the 2A state title this fall. And Ty may find himself caught up in an experience his father never got to enjoy.