Editor’s Note: After a brief holiday hiatus, we’re back in action here. This is the third piece in a series by Nick Rodricks. Nick graduated this spring from Connecticut College and was a captain on the lacrosse team. He is currently working in St. Louis as a high school guidance counselor, helping inner-city kids find their way to college. Marvin the Torch never could keep his hands off somebody else’s business, particularly if the business was losing money. Now this is accepted behavior in Marvin’s profession, which is arson. But he has a bad habit of getting into places where he shouldn’t be and promising too many favors. This is where all his trouble starts. Follow him on Twitter.
I am a college guidance counselor but since most students at my high school won’t go on to college I use that job title rather loosely; I consider myself more of a support person than anything. Some of my students have trouble reading or doing simple arithmetic despite being in the 12th grade so I spend a good portion of my time just helping kids play catch-up. It’s a different world over there, far removed from the privileges of private school and nurturing parents, plagued by a cycle of poverty and under-performance.
My high school could, I suppose, be considered dangerous in many way. A mailman was shot in the leg down the street just a few weeks ago, an apparent accident but disturbing none the less. The walls are full of asbestos, the ceilings leak when it rains hard (and sometimes when the air-conditioning has been on too long) and I’m sure more than one section of the building wouldn’t meet the fire code. Yet, one of the easiest ways to get injured in school would be to simply walk the hallways any time after the final bell. Once the day is over the linoleum floors of the school’s hallways become the sole possession of the men’s and women’s track team and their talented athletes. Any newcomer must be warned never to watch their feet for fear of being demolished by a state champion in the 100m hurdles.
The success of the track team is incredible considering the circumstances. Several athletes compete at the state championships each year, one of them running the third fastest time in all of Illinois in the 400 last year. The team nearly always blows out most local competition and seems to be one of the school’s few saving graces in terms of sending kids to college. I couldn’t tell you how many kids have gone on to good college track careers but judging by the recruiting letters some of my students bring to me (one of the bright spots in my work) it’s hard to believe some of them don’t go on to do great things. The team practices in these halls every day, setting up mattresses for the long jump between rows of lockers and putting blue painters tape on the ground to mark the end of the 100m dash.
Last year one of the kids on the team missed a turn and sliced open his arm on a door hinge. Some kids twist ankles on the linoleum while others rarely get to practice their actual event due to the odd length of the halls. Yet, despite the obvious disadvantage of the hallways and the nuisance of dodging teachers trying to safely get to their cars, our track team does well year in and year out. It’s hard not to attach some significance to this especially in a place that normally seems so dismal. The hallway runners are resilient in a way that seems all too rare to me, especially in the lacrosse world.
The track team at this poor public high school seems to want to compete in a way that surpasses the detriment of a lack of facilities. It isn’t always easy to take life lessons from my students, many of them seem to have ridiculous priorities and rarely seem to understand the importance of an education. Yet, some of them, especially the ones that sprint the hallways each evening, seem to understand how to count blessings. Every time I dodge an athlete on my way out of the building I remember how I used to complain about the terrible rental lights we used to practice under or the way our turf field would freeze like concrete. In the long run though, I had trainers that nursed me back to health, a field that looked out over a river, someone to do my laundry, my own locker, my own gear, hotels, buses meals and the opportunity to play a college sport. Sometimes I watch those kids hurdle over a trashcan and I wish I hadn’t been so petty.
It’s not my place to give life lessons but sometimes it’s important to remember what you have. The hallway track team seems to be made up of kids who understand that, while they may not have a gym to practice in, they do have their health, their speed and an opportunity to compete that many kids may never have. To every lacrosse player that ever complained about a slow trainer or an incompetent referee: remember that there are millions of kids who would love to be in your shoes. Competing is a short lived privilege and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted. We can’t all have our own stadiums, huge locker rooms and our own weight room but while we are still athletes we need to enjoy it. Of course we only truly understand this once our playing days are done but I can assure you, someday you’ll wish you were still playing even if it is just in a hallway.