Aiming for a Celebration

Shao Jun Liu leads a Widefield team that dreams of the possibility of making it to state this season. Colorado Track XC file photo.

Special to Colorado Track XC by Erik Nelson

Editors Note: Erik Nelson is not only the coach at Widefield High School, but he has a reputation around Colorado Springs of being a passionate and highly committed coach as well. Erik is one of those coaches you love to run into at meets because he always has something positive to say. When he proposed this article to me, I was excited to make room for it. The article expresses a perspective that probably gets short treatment on this site, and I'm happy to give the viewpoint a little higher profile.

Please forgive us if we act a little crazy.

The second week of October means the start of championship season for cross country in Colorado.
For the likes of TCA, Thompson Valley, Cheyenne Mountain, Boulder, Fort Collins, Monarch, Mountain Vista, and many of the very consistent, very good programs in Colorado, these weeks are just prelude to the Big One. For many teams the question is not whether they will make it to State, the question is how high they can finish once they get there.
However, these two weeks take on a very different meaning for many cross country teams.
Many teams have no aspirations of a top 10 finish at State. They have no dreams of major upsets. They don’t ponder league titles. They don’t fantasize about regional championships. They simply hope that maybe, just maybe, if everyone rounds into shape and things go their way they might qualify for the opportunity to represent their school at State.
Some of these are schools that go decades without qualifying an individual or team for State. Some have no current team members who have personally known a state qualifier from their team. And some are right on the bubble every year, sneaking in some years and staying home others.
This is the way cross country is for many teams in Colorado. Every year they toil away in near anonymity.  Perhaps the vast majority of their own classmates are unaware they exist. But every day they go to practice, run their miles, kill themselves in workouts, get better day by day, all with a dream that maybe it will all pay off on October 18th. 
Please excuse these teams for their jubilation when it happens. You may see coaches of 4th or 5th place teams taking Gatorade baths.  You may hear cheers and screams of delight when individual places in the teens are announced. You might see painted faces, dyed hair, banners, signs, and noisemakers for teams that are not cross country powerhouses.
Undoubtedly there are many teams for whom these next two weeks will be business as usual. 
But for some, these next two weeks represent the culmination of months of work and dreams.
Emotions will ride high.
Please forgive those of us who will celebrate like we won State just because we qualified to run there.
Erik, I regret that we will run at separate regional venues. But I'll be rooting for you to have that celebration next Thursday nevertheless!