AL HAMNIK: Local cross country teams have trouble keeping up

2013-08-19T17:30:00Z 2013-08-19T20:32:41Z AL HAMNIK: Local cross country teams have trouble keeping upAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
August 19, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

I enjoy a good, long walk. My knees won't let me run. Too many basketball games on concrete.

And besides, serious distance running is excruciatingly hard work. It's painful, too.

I've never seen a jogger or marathon runner smile as they pass by on the street or a dirt road. They always look like they've been stabbed, shot, or both.

So maybe I shouldn't be surprised high school cross country numbers are down on several area boys teams, though the powerhouse programs don't seem fazed.

To many kids, running just isn't exciting or sexy. And as a school sport lacking notoriety, it's far under the radar compared to football or soccer in the fall.

Used to be, you'd see kids running down your street in the summer, not from police, but while training for their upcoming cross country season.

Those streets are relatively empty now.

There are no more Brad Rowes, Rudy Chapas, Carey Pinkowskis and Jason Casianos.

Nor will there be in the future.

The last individual state champion from Lake County was Horace Mann's Anthony Williams in 1988; the last Porter County champ was Portage's Casiano in 1990.

Track and field in the spring remains popular because it offers a variety of events, while the top distance runners often are cross country rivals as well.

Running through fields, up and down hills, and in forest preserves takes a special breed of young athlete, I guess. Bee stings, poison ivy, thorny bushes and hidden gopher holes are common course hazards.

The season is like a bad weather report. It begins in hot, muggy temperatures and can end in bitter cold, occasionally with a light snow cover.

Coaching turnover also is alarming for any minor sport. Of the 27 boys teams we cover in Lake and Jasper counties alone, nine will have new coaches this season.

The IHSAA is attempting to make the sport more appealing by increasing your chances for postseason advancement. And it's about time it did.

At the sectional to regional levels, top five teams advance — and as a new twist — the top 10 individuals not associated with those teams will also move on.

From semistate to state, it's the top six teams and top 10 individuals not on one of the qualifying teams.

At state, the top 20 individuals will now get medals instead of the top 15.

There's little else that can be done to boost the popularity of a sport where your heart's beating 100 mph and you're literally blinded by pain for 3.1 miles.

Then again, maybe that's the hook for those who do it.

Few people can.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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