COMMENTARY: See you at the finish line
As a bona fide, credentialed sportswriter for the Mineral News-Tribune, and a card-carrying member of the West Virginia Sportswriters Association, I am privileged to have access that the casual observer does not.
One such point of access that has profoundly impacted the way I view scholastic sports, all the good and all the bad, has been the finish line of the West Virginia state track and field meet.
It is there where I’ve been privileged to be now on two separate occasions, that I have truly taken in the axiom that the ABC Wide World of Sports made famous many moons ago, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.”
I am positioned there because it’s the best seat in the house, the closest to the action, and not just the action but what generally is the most important part of the action, the start and more importantly, the finish. It literally is the hallowed ground at which champions are made and lost. It’s the only place you’ll see the highest highs, and unfortunately, the lowest lows.
It’s the very place where dreams are both realized and shattered.
It is here that you see arms raised in celebration, wide smiles, big eyes, hugs, the lifting of each other in the air, every possible way of celebrating. It is also here where you see runners tumble and fall as they give every ounce of energy to the cause. It is here you see the tears, the faces cupped in hands in disappointment. It is here you see hugs not of celebration but of condolence.
Everybody is there because they have earned their spot, either as an individual or as a member of a relay team for example. There are no free passes to the state track and field meet. Everything is based off your performance at regionals, and if you don’t qualify directly from there, you wait to see if you have been afforded an at-large spot once all the results have been tabulated.
That being said, while I firmly believe everybody has worked hard to be there, the range of athletes in terms of expectations vary. There are the elite athletes realistically vying for the top prize or for a chance to set a new state record. There are the projected number twos that want a fighting chance to see if they can topple the projected number one.
Make no mistake about it, there are also those that are just happy to be there, and I mean that in the most positive and not negative ways. For many, simply qualifying for the state track meet was the goal. Expectations for this bunch are tempered by reality. It means a chance to visit the capital city, a chance to spend a few days away from home with friends and teammates, a chance to extend high school life for just a few more days.
In any event, if you’re into sports the way I am, meaning you’re not just in it for the results, the wins, the losses, the point totals, the records. If you’re into sports because you love seeing the interactions of groups of people working together for a common goal, of student athletes realizing the results of hard work and dedication.
If you’re into sports because of what they mean to individuals, to schools, to communities, there is no finer place to observe, take in, and study every range of emotion and the impact sports have on the individual than the finish line of a state track meet.
It was at the finish line two years ago in Charleston where I witnessed first-hand one of the most amazing sports performances of my lifetime. In what is now a famous YouTube clip, Weir’s Sebastian Spencer is seen taking the baton as the anchor of the Red Riders’ 4 x 100 relay team and passing six other runners down the home stretch with blazing and unforgettable speed to win the state title.
At that same meet two years, the conditions were as hot as hot can get and runners were literally passing out at the finish line from exhaustion, having spent everything within their being and battling the unforgiveable elements.
This year, the elements were a bit unforgivable at times as well, but it was a different element, rain. With the running of the 400-meter dash and 3200-meter run on Thursday, a torrential downpour literally caused flooding conditions, with rain several inches deep in lanes one and two.
It was at the finish line this year in Charleston what I and other media members present were in agreement was one of the purest, most joyful victory celebrations we’d ever seen. In the 4 x 100-meter relay, Fairmont Senior’s Gracie Lamb was the anchor, along with her teammates Paytyn Neal, Maddie Awbrey, and Marin Parker on team that captured the state championship by less than a second over Winfield.
Upon crossing the line in first place, an exuberant Gracie Lamb, with a smile the size of Texas, clutched her teammates one by one and lifted them in the air. It was a moment that perfectly encapsulated every positive emotion high school sports should be about.
Yes, I love the access that being a sportswriter provides. Not because it makes me feel special, but more so because it truly gives me a birds eye view of the action, but more importantly, gets me close enough to the action to really get a true feel for what is occurring.
You see, I’m not really a press box guy. If it’s raining, sure, but I want to be where I can smell, taste, feel, and hear all the action. For me, it’s the only way to truly experience and capture every emotion, good and bad, of the action.
See you at the finish line.