Saturday was De Smet’s District meet for Cross Country. The entire season we were confident we would not only make it through to Sectionals, but then to State, where the plan was to do well. I was invested heavily in this. However, nothing goes exactly to plan. Two of our original scoring five got hurt a couple of weeks before the race, but there was a rally mentality. Nothing was going to stop us. Luck, fate, or destiny could not stop us from qualifying. They were ready no matter what.
Everyone got to the meet at Parkway Central High School at 7:30 am. The warm-up looked good. They were serious, they were focused, and they looked like they were ready to roll. The gun went off at 9:00 am. Their first quarter mile was right on pace. Our lead runner was at 71 seconds, and our seventh man was at 81 seconds. But here is the thing about cross country races, if you aren’t physically in the race, you can only do so much to help them. I felt like I rolled the die. At the mile, we were slow. Our lead runner came through at 5:18, and our seventh man rolled through at 5:43. We looked off, but there is always hope at that point. Then they went through the second mile. Then the third, and then the finish. The coaches and I corralled our guys back to our tent, and you could tell they knew that we didn’t get through. They were devastated. We rolled the die, and we didn’t qualify.
The guys who raced went on their cool down and stretched away from the tent. They came back about twenty-five minutes later, still devastated. I watched these guys work hard, and to see them (see us) fall short was hard.
Then something cool happened.
The two guys who qualified individually sat back to back, leaning up against each other, and everyone joined in; leaning against one another. I am not sure exactly what to take away from this, but I was incredibly disappointed and comforted at the same time. They learned something, and I like to think I was shoulder to shoulder (literally in this picture) with them as they learned it.
I have had experiences just like this in each of the classes I have taught or even the ones I sat in on. These students usually work hard, but sometimes they just don’t understand the material. Helping them shoulder to shoulder is almost more satisfying than teaching them outright. Reading Twelve Angry Men side-by-side with my Freshmen, and explaining how to convert a quadratic equation into standard form with my Juniors around a box of donuts has made me relate more to them than standing in front of a class and lecturing.
In a way, failure for my athletes, my juniors, and my freshmen has been more productive than success, because they get to bring themselves up side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who truly wants to relate to them. It’s embarrassing to say this, but I never knew that this – this shoulder-to-shoulder contact – is what mentoring and teaching is all about.