With an enrollment of 100 or so students, LaCrosse High School has about the same number of kids walking the hall as a school like Valparaiso has on its boys track team.
So when the Tigers, whose roster numbers less than 15, have an athlete advance to the regional, it's a pretty big deal.
"Nobody's expecting anything in sports out of LaCrosse," distance runner Nate Rhodes said. "We make it regional, it starts to get our name out there."
Rhodes, who qualified for tonight's Valparaiso Regional by finishing fourth in the 1,600 at the Rensselaer Sectional, will be joined on the ride over by long jumper Tyler Bailey, who took second.
"It feels really good," Bailey said. "People say big schools go on to do big things. They don't look at the small schools. It just goes to show that a school our size can go on to the regional or even further. It means a lot."
The beauty of a sport like track is that kids like Smith and Rhodes from dots on the map like LaCrosse can rub elbows with kids from schools 25 times bigger than theirs, and compete on a level playing field. It happened in Tuesday's girls regional, where South Central's Kyleigh Werner (1,600) and Westville shot putter Savanna Jackson both qualified for state.
"That's definitely the advantage of track," said Tigers coach Todd Dermody, who played basketball at LaPorte. "You get exactly what you put into it. We'll take anybody who wants to give it a try. We'll find something for them. It's not always about competing with other guys. It's about doing better every time."
Dermody raves about Bailey, a strong student who also golfs in the spring.
"I've never seen a kid work as hard as him," he said. "Anybody with a lot of ability who worked as hard as him, they'd be leaps and bounds ahead of everybody."
Bailey jumped a personal-best 19 feet, 8 1/2 inches in the sectional.
When talent is relatively close, effort is a great equalizer. It also takes stepping to the line not worrying about the name on the front of the jersey of the kid next to you.
"You have to look at it like you're on top of the world," Bailey said, "like you're somebody big."
Rhodes got the idea last year, when he was part of the cross country team that advanced to the regional. Last fall, he qualified individually.
"Schools go against us, they think, 'Oh, LaCrosse, it's an easy win,'" he said. "Cross country has done well and now it's starting to carry over to other sports. People will have to start worrying about getting competition from our school. It makes you want to do good."
After running a PR of 4:43 in the sectional, Rhodes knows it's going to take a significant drop in time for him to extend his season. From the sounds of it, he's already cleared one important hurdle -- believing that it's not about what's on your uniform, but who's in it.
"It's going to be a long road," he said. "It's going to be hard to do, but I think I can do it. Deep down, I know I have it in me."
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.