There is no greater thrill than coaching or competing in a State level meet. This past weekend, I was fortunate to have a team of girls qualify for the Wisconsin State Cross Country Championships at Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids. What an absolute rush!! I mean, we finished 19th of 20 teams--but nobody really cared! We were there to soak up the experience(and the rain that fell all day!).
If you want to know what it's like to win a State title though, you sure as heck don't want to talk to me! I would instead point you to Donn Behnke, coach of the Stevens Point High School boys cross country squad. Coach Behnke has led his team to an amazing 37 Wisconsin state meet appearances, with 10 of them resulting in titles.
It was cool seeing Coach Behnke walking around at the meet this weekend, especially since I had just purchased a copy of his new book, The Animal Keepers: The Story of an Unlikely Hero and an Unforgettable Season. The story tracks the 1985 season of the Stevens Point High School cross country team and their journey to the State title that year. What makes the victory more surreal is that the team is led by an unlikely hero named Scott "The Animal" Longley, a special education student who shows up the first day of practice with no expectations, but a big heart. Like any title squad, pieces and chemistry have to collide at the right times. Behnke graciously gives us the details how this team forged a bond that brought out the champion in each runner and collectively made them strong for the title run.
This book is an absolute "must" for any high school library. The story will make it's way through your running crew like a prized old t-shirt! Not only does the book capture the true spirit of cross country, it shows how important it is to be a good teammate, and how never to underestimate anyone that walks through the door on the first day of practice! It's a mistake we all have made as coaches and runners.
Though the last thing anyone wants to hear are more "remember the day" stories from old jocks like me, the public library needs this book in their collection as well to satisfy that nostalgic itch all of us former high school runners have. This story will take you back to every crazy teammate, pasta party, gut-wrenching workout, and magical race you ever had. Not a bad way to spend some time!