This is Lily.
She’s about 100 meters from the end of a grueling 2.6 mile run at the Quabacook Relays hosted each fall by Morse High School. The course features four hill climbs, two of which are among the most brutal hill climbs on any cross-country course in Maine. She didn’t win.
So why is she smiling?
She’s being welcomed home. It’s the final varsity heat of the day, the number one race, six varsity races are in the books. It is the pinnacle of the day’s competitive races. Several girls have already crossed the finish line in front of her.
So maybe she smiles because track and field is the most welcoming, and inclusisive, of sports.
Track & field and cross-country are the most competitive high school sports in Maine. The programs produce far more college athletes than any other sport. At the same time the programs are also the most welcoming to athletes across all skills levels.
That may seem counterintuitive, for a sport to be simultaneously highly competitive and inclusive.
Unlike most team sports the slower runner or the novice high jumper does not impede the faster, stronger, or more accomplished athlete. No playing time has to be sacrificed to get the less competitive athletes in the game. The scoring system does not penalize a team for entering its least competitive, least experienced athletes. There are no cuts. To be sure there is some talent segregation: there are fast heats and slow heats, there are qualifying standards for conference championships, and even fewer make it to the state meet. But all the other meets, all season long, take all comers.
In many ways they compete against themselves, striving to get better. They’re on the same track, on the same day, in front of the same group of parents and fans as are the fastest and strongest athletes in town, or in the state.
That’s all well and good you say, but surely the best would get even better if they only competed against the best? For instance, look at ice hockey or soccer where club sports allow the most talented to develop without the drag of their less competitive school mates. Hockey has its “tiers.” There is club and “academy” soccer, AAU basketball and baseball, and scores of private clinics, and summer camps.
Surely these programs must do a better job developing young athletes and preparing them for the next level?
Ninety-nine Mainers from the class of 2017 were recruited and matriculated at scholarship offering Division I, or Division 2 colleges. One was a hockey player. Six were soccer players.
Twenty-six of the ninety-nine were track & field and cross-country athletes, far more than any other sport.
Most of the coaching for these athletes takes place at the local level, in municipal recreation programs, at middle schools, and then at high schools. In almost all cases the track these programs use is at the local high school. But not in Brunswick where the track at our high school is unusable.
The original track, installed when the high school opened in 1995, is compromised and unsafe for meets. Brunswick High has not been able to host a track meet since 2016. “Home” meets have been hosted at Lisbon High School, twelve miles distant, the last two seasons. The Town of Brunswick is not prepared to replace the track even though it is located at the high school. Replacement is a community effort led by RunBrunswick, a non-profit run by volunteers.
It makes sense that the track and field community will lead the drive to rebuild the track. This is about the most supportive athletic community you will find. It starts within the team and may come from the fact that it is open to all competitors. The support shown by the strongest most competitive athletes for the less talented—the inclusivity—is legendary. What they are supporting is improvement, or the next “personal best.”
But the sense of community extends beyond the team to a sense of a community among teams, and among the athletes and coaches of different teams. Morse High School trains with Brunswick during the indoor track season. Mt. Ararat and Brunswick, bitterest of rivals, support one another in the multi-team competitions. You often see coaches from one program with a particular specialty sharing pointers with athletes from other teams.
And the athletes. At the most competitive levels there is a brotherhood, or a sisterhood. You will rarely see more gracious behavior in young people than at the end of a race.
With more than a quarter of Maine’s college athletes coming from our track & field and cross-country programs, it is plain that this is an extracurricular activity that supports and enhances our student’s college applications. Brunswick should be supporting this program to the same extent it supports other extracurricular activities and athletic programs.
You can help. Support RunBrunswick. Many in the community have. Businesses big and small have donated, and many families are stepping up to help out too. As of this date RunBrunswick has raised $102,055 but the project will cost $900,000. Come to one of their fundraisers, spread the word. Let town leaders know you support the new track.