Chanman's Blog


My Response to Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s July 29, 2022 blog titled A Modest Proposal to Fix High School Sports, was all about high school cross country. There were hundreds of comments and probably many follow-up posts. David Epstein, author of Range and Sports Gene and former elite runner Kyle Merber, both penned responses to the initial post (Epstein’s here and Merber’s here). Which spurred Gladwell to write a second blog, Saving High School Sports, Part Two

No one asked me what I think about all this. But I’m in seventh heaven that high school cross country is being discussed in the mainstream, so here’s my two cents to add to the mix.

I am going to quote Gladwell here, so that I state his point of view and ideas correctly:

The heart of my high school sports argument was this.

Let’s start with this question: What are high school sports for?

I think most of us would give three answers to that:

  1. 1. To prepare those with elite ability for post-high school competition.
  2. 2. To provide an opportunity for students to experience the joy that comes from exercise and competition.
  3. 3. To lay down life-long habits of physical activity.

I think American high schools do a really good job with Number 1. I think they do a so-so job with Number 2, and because they do a so-so job with Number 2, they do a lousy job with Number 3.

I argued that high school cross country programs were in a unique position to solve this problem, and I suggested a new competition format I call the “Pied Piper.” In the Pied Piper, each competing team would have 20 runners instead of the usual five, and the scoring system would be based on time rather than placement.

With those two reforms, races would be decided by the performance of the slowest members of any team, and not—as they are now—by the fastest members. This, I argued, would change the psychological dynamics of participation in cross country such that the runner of average ability would have a reason to join the cross country team.

I’ll start with the Pied Piper race idea. I am not a fan. I think cross country meets with their Varsity, Junior Varsity, and Frosh/Soph divisions, provide ample opportunities for runners of all abilities to participate in the sport. Varsity races tend to be very competitive. For some, that is what they strive for. For the more average or below-average runners, they run in the Junior Varsity or Frosh/Soph races.

On our team at Sacred Heart Cathedral, the fastest seven run varsity. After that, I spread out the rest of the team in the other races to give the athletes their best competitive situation and with the hope that we place as high as possible in these “lower level” races. Our twentieth fastest runner is not effecting the varsity team result as they would in the Pied Piper race concept, but they could easily be placing and scoring in the race that they’re in. The medals earned by the Junior Varsity and Frosh/Soph teams are just as shiny as the ones from the Varsity race. And the smiles of pride seem to all be the same.

As a program, we preach to the students that they should take pride in the accomplishments of the whole team. That means our last finisher in the Junior Varsity Girls race should be proud and happy for the Varsity Boys team that took first. Or the seven girls who ran varsity and came in in the back of the pack, should leave the meet happy and excited when our Junior Varsity Boys team won an award for third place.

The way I run our team, makes the Pied Piper race format unnecessary to get average runners to join the team. Those runners are already joining our team and feeling important to the overall team. If this isn’t the case in all high school cross country programs, the area that needs improving is the coaching, not the race format.

Now I’ll move to Gladwell’s initial premise of what high school sports are for. For the most part I agree with him. However, I think the shortcomings of number three (laying down life-long habits of physical activity) are not a shortcoming of high school sports. I think high school sports is doing its part in this endeavor and changing the way high school cross country is done, is not the solution to get more people having life-long habits of physical activity.

The key is what happens AFTER high school. So many of the alumni from my team, after they graduate, stop running. One reason is that after years of going to practice everyday and having a coach tell them what to do for training and scheduling all their races, they don’t know how to adjust to their newfound freedom. They can’t envision running in their life that doesn’t include teammates, a coach, daily practices, and weekly meets. They need help to understand that: 1) you can just go run by yourself, 2) you don’t have to be perfectly trained to go jump into a race, and 3) you don’t have to be on a team to participate in a race.

Mass participation road races help a little bit in filling this gap. But this can lead to a cycle of: train for a race, run the race, then stop running because there’s not a next race.

In the Bay Area, our local association, the Pacific Association has a year long road race series and a fall cross country grand prix. These are great for establishing the pattern of running as a lifestyle. Plus there’s a team component which builds camaraderie in this running lifestyle endeavor. The problem with this particular race series is that the teams tend to be full of 25-35 year old post-collegiate runners. That means they are super competitive. I don’t mind the fast post-collegians up front. I just wish there were also some average 25-35 year old runners to be in the middle and some below-average 25-35 year olds at the back of the pack. Instead, the better post-collegians are up front and the slower post-collegians, who are all still way faster than most of us ever dreamed of being, are in the back. It’s a blow to the self-esteem to run sub-six minute mile pace for 5K and be one of the last people to finish.

Cross country in high school is very inviting to the average and below-average runner. The cross country races in the Pacific Association? Not so much. One suggestion to encourage and support more lifelong runners, is to get more average teams to participate in these Pacific Association type grand prixs and cross country races.

Running clubs based out of running stores are another suggestion. I know A Runner’s Mind in the San Francisco Bay Area is doing their part. A running store is a natural place to have a running club. Runners would meet at the store 2-3 times a week. One day could be a weeknight speed session. Another time (maybe a morning run) would be just an easy run. Then on the weekend, a long run. This concept is the middle ground between being on a high school team with daily practices and going it all alone. This running store running club could schedule a few races for people to go run and maybe host a few of their own. Also they can go to Pacific Association races and be the average runners placing in the middle to back of the pack.

My last concept for creating lifelong runners is making runners fans of the sport. High school coaches should be talking about the current pro runners and encouraging their team members to follow the sport. For the running clubs out there, there should be some emphasis on following the sport as well as participating in the sport.

Our current professional runners should get out there as much as they can and meet high school teams and recreational runners. Let’s make Grant Fisher’s name as well known as Meb’s. Probably most people shooting a basketball, daydream of draining their shot like Steph Curry, or the people out on the tennis court, think about serving one up like Serena Williams. Are runners out there, kicking the last 100 meters of race thinking to themselves, I’m gonna close like Jakob Ingebrigsten? There are lots of Super Bowl parties. How about a USA Championships Viewing party next summer?

There, I got everything I’ve been saying to myself since Malcolm Gladwell’s first post, off my chest and onto paper. Tell me what you think.

A Different Championship Meet

Posted in International Track & Field by Andy Chan on July 12, 2022
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In a few days my wife, Malinda, and I will head off to Eugene for the 2022 World Athletics Championships. There will be something all so familiar about this. Since 2008, we’ve been to eighteen national or international championships (three Olympics, six World Championships, nine Olympic Trials or USA Nationals). We’ve attended meets in Eugene six times.

But there is something different about this time. Our previous Outdoor World Championship Meet experiences were in Germany, Korea, Russia, China, and England. This is the first one in the United States. (One of our trips was to the Indoor World Championships in Portland.) All of our previous visits to Eugene (a.k.a. Track Town USA) were to the “Old Hayward Field.” This will be our first visit to the “New Hayward Field.”

But what’s most different is we are truly going as “just” track & field fans. We have no passionate rooting interest. There is no one event that, in our eyes, the meet is centered around. Shannon Rowbury is not competing.

We’ve been blessed to travel eighteen times to national and international championship meets to cheer for Shannon. We’ve held up our Go Shannon banner, taken victory lap photos, celebrated post-meet, and just generally enjoyed the thrill of being there to cheer for “the kid I coached in high school.”

Holding up the Go Shannon Banner.
Talking to Shannon on her Victory Lap.
Champagne toast on another trip to a global championship.

I don’t know yet how this is going to feel. But I know it will be different. Don’t get me wrong. I love track & field and I will geek out just as much as always, commenting on the action, making predictions, and just being in heaven because I’m watching great competition at a world class track & field meet.

I imagine that I won’t get quite as nervous on particular race days. Qualifying days were the worst. When the person you are cheering for is expected to qualify on to the next round, nothing particularly good happens in the trials – you either do what you’re expected to do and qualify or you’re devastated because you’re going home.

My favorites were the Olympic Trials Final races. These were the most nerve wracking (but also the most exhilarating when the result turned out well). Everything came down to 1500 meters of running, with a trip to the Olympics on the line, and the next Olympics a long four years away.

A Priceless Moment from 2008.

There were numerous Shannon race days (forty-one by my count) that were fun but also stressful. We were also quite spoiled. Shannon ran so well, so many times, that almost always, we had post-race smiles on our faces as we left the stadium.

In 2014 we got to watch the race trackside.

But the hours leading up to those post-race smiles could be excruciating. Time always seemed to move slowly on these days. We’d get up and eat and then have to fill up the time until the meet started. We didn’t want to risk being late, so we’d leave early. That usually resulted in being in our seats WAAAAY before her race. I’d distract myself following all the action on the track and in the field in front of us. Who knew I could busy myself so intently watching the eventual eighth place finisher in the high jump take their second attempt. In many a social media post I expressed the agony of anxiously waiting for the race to happen.

The agony of anxiously waiting.

The last hour before Shannon’s races were the worst. Any banter between me and Malinda stopped. Neither one of us talked much. I’d glance at my watch. Then at the meet schedule. Then back at my watch. How many more minutes to go? Then I’d check my phone for any texts or e-mails. And then a quick check of social media. How long did that take? I check my watch. Oh wow, it’s been two minutes! Should I get up and go to the bathroom now so I don’t have to go during her race? Maybe I should wait until closer…but what if there’s a line at the bathroom? Starting in 2016, filling this time had the added activity of deciding when to apply our “good luck lipstick.” I hope Shannon was calm wherever she was on the warm-up track, because we were doing enough fretting for all of us. 

Rowbury Red for good luck.

But circling back to the 2022 World Championships, although we have no passionate rooting interest, Shannon is going to be there. She just will not be racing. Which means for once we’ll have the opportunity to hang out with her at one of these events. Shannon will be doing some broadcasting for the NBC telecasts. Malinda and I may do some babysitting while Shannon’s on the air. So this event will be different in a whole new way.  I’ll let you know if watching Shannon’s four month old is as nerve wracking as watching Shannon race.

Appreciating Good Teammates and Loyalty

As I watched Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals, there was a lot to appreciate – Klay Thompson completing his return from a torn ACL and a ruptured Achilles tendon, Draymond Green’s tenacity, and Steph Curry’s artistry as a shooter, to name a few. But what I really appreciated was how good a teammate Andre Iguodala is and the loyalty Steve Kerr showed Iguodala in return.

With less than four minutes left in the 3rd quarter and the Warriors holding a 17 point lead, in the span of 36 seconds, Gary Payton II (GP2) committed an offensive foul that turned the ball over to the Celtics and then committed a defensive foul. Iguodala came off the bench to lecture GP2. This was not the time to be committing fouls and stopping the clock. GP2 was removed from the game and as he came to the bench Iguodala high fived him, but could be seen going over to where GP2 sat down and continued to give instructions. I loved how he was “coaching him up,” a veteran player acting as a mentor to a younger player. The coaches weren’t going over to talk to GP2, Iguodala was taking care of things for them.  

On his podcast, The Draymond Green Show, immediately after Game 6, Draymond Green had these words to say directly to Iguodala about his role on the 2022 Warriors team:

“We probably felt your impact this year, more than any year that you were playing and competing and dominating…I am one hundred percent certain we don’t do this without you and your leadership in showing us the way.”

With 1:01 left in the game, Kerr subbed in Iguodala for Andrew Wiggins (another Warrior player, Iguodala coached up throughout the series). The television broadcasters noted the moment, praising Iguodala’s “championship DNA” and acknowledging that this may be the final time he takes the court as a player. I love that Kerr put Iguodala into the game so he could be on the court (with Curry, Thompson, and Green) as the Warriors won their fourth championship in the last eight years.

In 2015, Iguodala was the MVP of the NBA Finals.

In 2022, he hardly played, but his impact as a good teammate contributed to the championship.

You can always be a good teammate and contribute to the team. And a coach should reward that loyalty whenever they can, with a meaningful gesture.

As a cross country and track & field coach, it made me think of athletes on the SHC team who did small things that contributed to our overall success through the years. These people weren’t the stars but I appreciated their contributions and I would talk about them to the whole team to acknowledge how we should never overlook or forget what they did for the team.

Jared Wicklund. In 2006, our top returning runner (Nick Cannata-Bowman) suffered an ankle injury over the summer and missed the first half of the season. The team hung in there during the early season meets and Jared Wicklund was a big part of that. Unfortunately, right when Nick returned, Jared got injured. But at the end of the season I gave a big thank you to Jared because his early season race successes really made a difference. Without Jared in the early going, I think we would have been behind Riordan and Mitty at WCAL #1 and probably had a pretty bad showing at the Stanford Invitational. It would have been hard for me to keep everyone motivated to keep chasing the dream while we awaited Nick’s return if that had happened.

Jared at Ed Sias Invit in 2006

Robert Manoos. In 2010, we came up with the “Bobby race plan.” Bobby (Robert Manoos) would surge hard and lead our pack between mile 1 and mile 2. The goal was to get everyone to the 2 mile mark “on schedule.” The others could key off of him and let Bobby set the pace. Then at the 2 mile mark, hopefully not mentally fatigued because they were just following Bobby for the mile from 1 to 2, they could then go to work and get the final times and places the team needed. Their work was about to begin. Bobby’s job was done. I assured Bobby that if he did this, it wouldn’t matter what his final time or place was. That he would keep his spot in the varsity line up because he had an important role.

Robert leading our pack from mile 1 to mile 2

Katherine Tse. In 2012 we were a big mess heading into CCS. Pretty much every girl on the team was having an issue causing them stress/anxiety about their ability to race well at CCS. The team energy and confidence was low. The only girl who put “great” for mental attitude on their post-race critique after WCAL Finals was Katherine Tse (Kat). We decided she was the key. I really believed that we just needed everyone having fun and we’d qualify for State. I purposely set things up so I would give her a ride to practice after SAT. During that car ride, I assigned her the job of being the fun/positive energy leader for CCS week. I told her to hype up her teammates, be energetic and bubbly all week long, send out group texts with positive thoughts. She did all that and our mental attitude changed and at the end of CCS, we were heading to State.

Katherine leading the fun at the 2012 Pre-CCS Dinner

Carolyn Scott. Carolyn Scott’s career was full of amazing races, but what stands out the most in my memory is one of her slowest races, from her junior year in 2015. It was a rough season for her that included a weird allergic reaction to something at the end of practice that ended with her in the emergency room. It was when things weren’t going so well and she was in a slump, that she most showed who she was and what kind of character she had. We asked her to not worry about her own race but to instead pace the freshmen — somewhat of an insult to a veteran varsity runner. But that’s what the team needed. So that’s what she did. The plan worked to perfection. But the part that I replay in my mind because it’s such a special memory is after the race, amidst the craziness of congratulating everyone and needing to get to the starting line for the upcoming boys race, I see Carolyn out of the corner of my eye. I go over to her and with tears in my eyes, I say “thank you, we wouldn’t have done this without you” and gave her a hug.

Carolyn ready to go at the start line and celebrating with the two frosh she helped pace

Chloe Poon. In 2016 Chloe Poon was on the varsity as a sophomore. But she struggled as a junior in 2017 and found herself on JV.  Despite not racing as well as she wanted, she was still contributing to the varsity girls through her leadership and her unique ability to get our fastest runners to overcome their nervousness before races. Towards the end of the season I decided I was going to keep Chloe as an alternate for the post-season. And that meant that to be fair, anyone who beat her would also be invited to be an alternate. The final tally was we kept eight alternates. One day she came to my office asking why I was keeping her training for CCS as an alternate. I told her it was because she had a job to do to help us get to State. She took that job to heart, helping to calm the nerves and build the confidence of her teammates. I remember right before the race, she came over to me and said, “don’t worry, they’re ready.” Half an hour later, we were going to State. The next day I texted her my thanks: “You came thru. No one may ever truly know how we don’t get to State if not for your behind the scenes help, especially with the twins. But I’ll never forget your contribution.” 

Chloe getting some of the varsity ready to race

Cassie Borromeo – I had to make a tough decision at the beginning of the 2018 track & field season. In the end I decided to put Cassie Borromeo on JV (instead of Varsity) with the idea that she would be the leader of the JV sprint squad. Most meets she would run the 100, 200 and both relays. At WCAL Finals we had the plan to have five girls be ready for the 4X4 and we’d then decide who we thought would be the four fastest given the circumstances come the end of the meet. Throughout the meet, the other coaches and I had several discussions about who to run. After the 200, I decided that as difficult as it would be to pull the leader off the relay team at the last minute, that was the right decision to have our fastest foursome on the track. I called Cassie over to talk. It was as if we were on the same wavelength….almost before I could tell her I was going to go with the other four, she said she wanted to talk to me about running the other four. What a great teammate! We would go on to win the 4X4 to be WCAL Champions and I went out of my way to make sure Cassie was in the group photo and that she received a WCAL certificate for being the alternate on a WCAL Championship relay team.

Cassie and the other four – WCAL 4X4 Champs

Having people who are good teammates are the key to any successful team. As a coach, I always appreciate people who are good teammates and I try to always be loyal to them and reward them for their behind the scenes contributions.

2010 WCAL Finals

Posted in Coaching,Race/Meet Report,SHC Track & Field by Andy Chan on May 13, 2020
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I started this re-cap back in May 2010. I wrote about 90% of it and saved it on May 21, 2010 but never went back to it to finish it. Now that we are coming up on the 10 year anniversary of this historic event, I decided I would finish the story, knowing that the final details (starting with the 4X4’s on, will be a little hazy in my mind given the ten years that have passed.

WCAL Finals, 2010

I have been involved in the sport of track & field for twenty-five years and from the coaching side of things for twenty years. Friday, May 14, 2010 at the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) Finals may have been one of the most successful meets I have ever been associated with.

It was a close battle in the JV Girls division. Sacred Heart Cathedral was already assured of a share of the WCAL championship by virtue of our 6-0 dual meet record. But to win the championship outright we needed to beat Mitty at WCAL Finals. After WCAL Trials Day, thanks to first places by Kellie Redmond 1600 and 3200) and Juliette Alliaume (high jump), the Irish were leading Mitty 36-24.5 when the day started.  I made a dope sheet using the seed marks and everything suggested that the meet would be very close. In a championship meet like this, team scoring is: 10 points for first place, 8 points for second place, 6 points for third place, 4 points for fourth place, 2 points for fifth place, and 1 point for sixth place. Just one change in place can be a four point swing! 

Kellie Redmond (1st, 1600 & 3200) and Katherine Tse (3rd, 3200) picked up big points
Juliette Alliaume won the High Jump

In the Varsity divisions the Irish had six events with legitimate chances of qualifying for the Central Coast Section (CCS) Trials. It would take a top three finish for the boys or top two finish for the girls or achieving the CCS  at-large standard. In all six cases, I felt we had a chance but it would be close.

That was the backdrop heading into the meet. At most meets, some things go better than expected, some things worse, and in the end things pretty much even out. But not on this magical night where pretty much everything seemed to go the Irish way!

From the time we first arrived around 4:00 P.M. until we were celebrating on the field at the end of the meet after 9:00 P.M. it was non-stop action for me. I didn’t have time to eat anything, drink anything, sit down, or even go to the bathroom. Pretty much continuously for those five hours I had something that required my coaching attention…it was great!

It all got started with the 4:00 P.M. coaches’ meeting. There was a lot of tension in the air as we tried to resolve some conflicts over the seeding of some races. During the meeting I ate a muffin and the Bellarmine coach commented that I really wolfed down that muffin fast. I told him it was because I didn’t know when I would have time to eat again – and boy was I right!

The meet opened with the 4X100 meter relays. Our JV Girls were seeded second behind Mitty. We ran well and got second place as expected and I was happy to keep the score as projected. It wasn’t until the next day that it registered that their time of 51.37 was excellent, the third fastest time by any team (varsity or junior varsity) since I’ve been coach at SHC.

Next up was the Varsity Boys 4X100 relay. Five of the top seven teams in the CCS were in the race: us, Serra, St. Ignatius, Bellarmine, and St. Francis. The top three would qualify automatically for CCS. The fourth and fifth place teams had to run faster than the CCS at-large qualifying standard of 43.59 to make it to CCS. With our season best (and school record) of 43.36, we knew we had a chance. It was difficult to see much of the race from the middle of the field. At the finish line I noticed that four teams came by in pretty close succession but we weren’t one of them….but I kept the faith, yelling for Yra (sophomore Michael Munchua) to keep running hard and get the time. We were definitely fifth. Now we had to wait and see what the time was. I had us in 43.2 hand time so I knew we had a chance. Yra and I waited together staring at the scoreboard for what seemed like forever. St. Ignatius, 42.31; Serra, 42.51; Bellarmine, 42.52; St. Francis, 42.75. Then we waited….and finally: Sacred Heart Cathedral, 43.41! CCS, baby! Yra and I jumped up and down and then ran to find the other team members. The seniors, Marcus Del Bianco and Doug Parrish, now officially had a conflict between CCS and graduation. We had talked about it for the past couple weeks but now it was a reality. There were still more races to be run, so I told the boys we’d “sort all this out later, for now get ready for your next event.”

Marcus Del Bianco to Gary Moore, the 4X1 qualifies for CCS

In the JV Girls 100 Hurdles the Irish were seeded fourth and sixth with Mitty’s lone qualifier seeded ninth (last). If that held, the Irish could outscore Mitty 5-0. But Mitty had other plans. Mitty’s top hurdler, Clemence Couteau had one of the top times coming into WCAL Trials. But during the trials race she fell and by the time she got up and finished could only place a non-qualifying tenth (the top nine qualified for the final in this event because St. Francis’ track has nine lanes on the straightaway). Mitty strategically scratched their athlete who was seeded ninth, which allowed Couteau to move up into the race. Couteau took advantage of the second chance and raced to third place, while SHC’s Alliaume and Asia Satchell placed fifth and sixth. Mitty had scored some somewhat unexpected points. Instead of 5-0 for the Irish, the event went 6-3 for Mitty. Overall it was an eight point swing in Mitty’s favor. I felt we had fourteen points to play with so we were still okay but this definitely cut into our margin for error.

In the JV Girls 400 meter race, the Irish had three runners and Mitty had three runners. This was an opportunity for a lot of points for one of the schools. I figured the Mitty girl would win the race but as long as the Irish placed three runners ahead of the next Mitty girl, we would outscore Mitty for the event. It was important that we do this since we had lost those points in the 100 hurdles. Ebony McKeever (second), Kristina Hernandez (fourth) and Samantha Mairena (fifth) got the job done perfectly. Sam in particular did great. She was in the middle of the triple jump and had to come over for the 400. She got a slow start and a Mitty girl was ahead of her at the 200 meter mark. But in the last half lap of the race Sam did exactly what we needed her to do, surging past Mitty’s second runner to give us a 14-11 point advantage for this event.

In the Varsity Boys 400, Del Bianco ran a very nice race for sixth place. It would be his last individual race for the Irish and it was great to see him run a PR, 52.47. He only started running track last year as a junior but over the last year and a half he has worked very hard and done everything we could have asked to make himself into a top track runner. That time of 52.47 makes him the fourth fastest 400 meter open runner I have ever coached.

At this point in the meet I attempted to get some field event results. I checked at the triple jump pit to see what Mairena’s place was. They told me she jumped 30 feet something for fourth or fifth but I couldn’t get an official result. Then I went to the discus and shot put to see if I could get some throwing results but again nothing was available. It sounded like Emily Chug and Chelsea Bendebel placed fourth and fifth in the Varsity Girls discus and that Jennifer Java was fifth in the JV Girls discus but nothing was official.

I went back down towards the finish line to watch the end of the JV Girls 100 meter race. It was another race filled with SHC (three) and Mitty (four) runners. A lot of points were at stake. I figured Erica Hipp might win the race for us but Cecily Agu from Mitty was going to press her and Mitty had three other athletes who could score, while the Irish’s Allegra Bautista and Fue Tualaulelei were seeded in non-scoring positions, seventh and eighth. I wasn’t concerned about the times at all. All I wanted to see was the finishing places. As in most 100 meter races it was a blur at the finish line. I could see that Hipp won and Agu was second. The next thing I noticed was that Bautista was ahead of the other three Mitty girls. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “Allegra just stole us some points.” She sure did – fifth place ahead of Mitty in sixth, seventh, and eighth. Scoring for this event went 12-9 for the Irish, nine points better than the projection on the dope sheet. That made up for the points we lost in the 100 hurdles and I felt like we were back where we started, with a double digit cushion.

Erica Hipp wins the 100

While I didn’t care about times, just places in the JV Girls 100, in the Varsity Boys 100 I cared about the time. Gary Moore needed to run 11.17 or faster to hit the at-large standard for CCS. It wouldn’t matter what place he was if he got the time. With so many studs in the 100 meter race, I was more looking at his time. It was a blanket finish and Gary and I didn’t really say a word…we just looked up at the scoreboard. Coach Art Higgins and Coach Lloyd Wilson thought he might have been second or third but from my vantage point I thought he was fifth. We would know shortly. Marshall, Valley Christian, 10.94; Harvey, Serra, 10.94; Borel, St. Francis, 10.99; Kennedy, St. Ignatius, 10.99; and finally Moore, Sacred Heart Cathedral, 11.03. What a finish! Five guys within 0.09 seconds of each other. But more importantly, another CCS qualifying performance for SHC!

As I walked around the field, people had been telling me the St. Francis coach was looking for me. I was pretty sure it was because they were scratching a girl from the 800 and they wanted to know if our alternate wanted the spot. If it was JV, we for sure wanted it, as Tiffany Lam had come down and was warmed up and ready to go. Lam told me about twenty minutes earlier that she was still waiting to hear if there were any scratches. Unfortunately it was a varsity scratch and our alternate, Juliana Flynn, was not interested in racing the 800. Flynn was very sick. She missed school the day before and probably only came to school today because it was WCAL Finals. When we talked before the meet I could tell she felt horrible. She had four layers on (jacket, fleece, sweatshirt, and t-shirt) and was pretty pale. We agreed that she would not run the 1600 or the 800 even if there was a scratch. But she wanted to run the 3200 and felt that she could PR even under the circumstances. I told her that I trusted her and that I would let her run but if the race started going downhill she should just drop out, “You don’t have to prove anything. I’d rather you try and give up than push through and get mono,” I told her.

Before the JV Girls 800, I went over to Emily Hipp to give her some advice. A saying I’ve learned is “stick your nose in it” meaning get into position to contend in the middle of the race. I told Hipp to “stick her nose in the race.” I knew that if she was aggressive she could place pretty high. We needed big races from her and her teammates Hernandez and McKeever (both of whom were tired from the 400) to prevent a 1-2-3 Mitty sweep, which was entirely possible. On the dope sheet I had Mitty beating us 20-10 in this event. Anything better than that would be a plus. I saw in the first 100 meters that McKeever must have been hurt. She’s battled a hip injury all season and her form was way off as she went straight to last place. In the middle of the pack Hipp and Hernandez were battling. With 200 to go, they both made strong moves and although Mitty’s Amanda Guzikowski won the race, by getting second (Hipp) and third (Hernandez), and knocking Mitty’s Courtney Lisowski to fifth, the Irish scored big. It was 14-12 in favor of SHC, a twelve point swing from the dope sheet.

I was busy congratulating Hipp and Hernandez and checking on McKeever’s injury that I missed the starting gun for the Varsity Boys race. In the first 100 meters I felt good about Jarrett Moore’s chances. He was following the race plan we had discussed the day before, sitting back in the middle of the pack for the first 300 meters while Valley Christian’s Sean Davis took it out fast. Moore moved up over the in the middle of the race and passed St. Ignatius’ Mike Reher with 300 meters to go to move into second place. They started to build a gap on fourth place and I felt Moore’s chances for a top three finish and CCS were looking good. Reher passed Moore with 150 to go and would eventually overtake Davis for a narrow win. Moore had his usual tight form down the homestretch but he had enough heart to hold on to third place. A couple of Moore’s old teammates, Paul Rechsteiner and Daniel Koch, were there and they joined the mob that surrounded him at the finish line. We had to almost hold him up as he was pretty wobbly on his feet from sheer exhaustion. We knew he was third and thus had qualified for CCS so there was some celebrating. Since I didn’t start a watch I had no idea what the time was. We looked up at the scoreboard and it said, Reher, St. Ignatius, 1:56.02; Davis, Valley Christian, 1:56.03. Koch pointed to the scoreboard and told Moore, “Look at their times…and you weren’t that far behind them!” Then it flashed up there, Moore, Sacred Heart Cathedral, 1:57.94. Everyone around us starting screaming. Coach Andy Lee told me later that he could hear a roar from across the field at the triple jump pit. I didn’t even realize until we got on the bus to go home that this was a new school record.

Moore has been trying to break 2:00 for two years. He’s run 2:00.47, 2:01.16, 2:01.17 (three times), and 2:01.18. Even the Riordan coach commented to me the other day about how close he’s been without getting it yet. Back in cross country season Moore paid me for pizza in pennies. I told him I’d hold on to one of the pennies and give it back to him when he broke 2:00. I’ve been carrying that penny around with me since last November. When we saw the time on the scoreboard I immediately reached for my wallet and pulled out the lucky penny to give to him. At last!

Jarrett Moore – CCS qualifier, first sub-2, gets the lucky penny back

Next up was the F/S Boys 800. As Ernest Lardizabal went to the starting line, I realized that I had been so busy I wasn’t even checking on athletes before their races. I was just expecting them to warm-up on their own and be where they needed to be. Lardizabal is one of the athletes that sometimes needs some handholding from a coach or a teammate. Today he was the only F/S boys competing. Yet, he looked warmed-up and ready for his race. That made me feel proud inside. I was also pretty proud when he finished the race with a new PR of 2:10.

I was finally able to get the JV Girls triple jump scores. Mitty picked up thirteen points on us but it was expected so I didn’t stress about it. We had a 89-87.5 lead with three running events (300H, 200, and 4X4) and three field events (discus, long jump, shot put) to go. Next, I found Coach Andy Lee and told him that right after the 300H he needed to tell Juliette Alliaume that she’s running the 4X4 for the injured McKeever.

We were getting down close to the end of the meet. We had three entrants in the JV Girls 300 hurdles to Mitty’s one. I felt like this was a real chance to put the meet away. And we were one hurdle away from going 1-2 and pretty much slamming the door on Mitty. But although Alliaume won the race pretty easily, Satchell, who was running a strong second, clipped the last hurdle and fell. Fortunately she had the presence of mind to get up and finish the race. We ended up outscoring Mitty 11-2 in this event, giving us a 100-89.5 lead. After the race I noticed Alliaume was mad about her time. I told her that she could run her hurdle race frustrations out in the 4X4.

The next race on the track was the Varsity Boys 300 hurdles. Junior Clint Lewis was a surprise finalist in this event. He started doing this event three weeks ago against Riordan when we just sort of threw him in the race to see if he could score a point in the dual meet. He looked pretty good so we ended up working on the hurdles the last three weeks and his time dropped all the way down to 44.25. Along the same lines was junior Brandon Donaldson in the Varsity Boys triple jump. We started teaching him how to triple jump two days before the Riordan meet just to get some points in the dual meet. Again he looked pretty good so we kept at it. Three weeks later Donaldson was sixth at WCAL Finals and had a PR of 39-9.75, the fifth best mark since I’ve been coach. I couldn’t be happier for two guys who just come to practice and work hard.

Next up was the JV Girls 200. Hipp (Erica) and Agu would go against each other again. This time Agu got the win and Mitty picked up a key point with sixth place. It was 11-8 for Mitty and the score was now 108-100.5. We were getting down real close to the end and the score was awfully close.

Erica and her rival from Mitty, Cecily Agu

The Varsity Boys 200 was another chance for Moore (Gary) to qualify for CCS. I had a bad vantage point for the race but a great view of the finish. Moore was clearly second place. Another CCS qualifying performance. This guy was only third in the F/S Boys 200 as a sophomore. One year later he’s taking second in the Varsity race.

After the meet, Mookie and I could celebrate him qualifying for CCS in the 100, 200, 4X1, and 4X4

I was finally able to get an official JV Girls discus score. Java was fifth and Mitty was third. Now it was 110-106.5. We were clinging to a 3.5 point lead with three events to go, the 4X4, long jump, and shot put.

I went to the start line for the Varsity Girls 3200. I noticed that St. Francis’ Morgan Healy and Valley Christian’s Emily Blaha had scratched. There were now four main players – Morgan Lira (second at WCAL Finals in XC) from Valley Christian, Mary Kriege (third at WCAL Finals in XC) from Mitty, Angie Korpusik (sixth at WCAL Finals in XC) from Presentation, and our Sophia Cannata-Bowman (fourth at WCAL Finals in XC). The top two would qualify for CCS unless they ran under 11:36.68, which at the time I didn’t think would happen. Also in the race was Flynn, who was still hoping to PR despite being sick. I gave some last minute instructions to Cannata-Bowman, just reminding her that she had already proven she can stay with these girls in cross country. Right before the gun went off I made eye contact with Flynn and then almost whispered so only she would hear to “be smart and make a good decision.” She nodded and then seconds later the race began.

Lira shot out to the lead with Kriege, Korpusik, and Cannata-Bowman forming a chase pack. Kriege’s mom, Becky, who I know from a run many years ago, was cheering for her daughter on the outside of the track at the 200 meter mark. I was on the inside of the track at the 200 meter mark. Every time after they came by she would talk to me about the race. The chase pack hit the mile mark at 5:47 – right on 11:36 pace. The Cannata-Bowman started moving up. She ran a couple laps at 86 and they were now two to three seconds ahead of 11:36 pace. Kriege’s mom pointed out that Lira was starting to come back to the pack and with about 600 meters to go Cannata-Bowman looked awesome. She was smooth, running fast, and most importantly had a look in her eyes that told me she was going to win this race. She overtook Lira and they were enough ahead of pace that I figured all four of them would run under 11:36. I moved to a different spot on the track to cheer so Mrs. Kriege and I weren’t shouting over each other. I was jumping up and down telling Cannata-Bowman to accelerate on the last lap. Her last lap was 79.9 seconds! And as a freshman she became the Varsity Girls WCAL 3200 meter champion with a :29 PR at 11:27.52. She was on the ground at the finish and when some of our girls started to go towards her the official told them to stay off the track. But he allowed me to go over to check on Cannata-Bowman. I didn’t do a lot of “checking”, I just told her what a great race she had run! Then I was up and cheering on Flynn, who was running a real courageous race given the circumstances. She battled a couple of St. Ignatius runners and came home with a :19 PR at 12:56.

An exhausted Sophia Cannata-Bowman, WCAL Champion in the 3200 as a freshman

The Varsity Boys 3200 represented the last race for EJ de Lara, Micki Hynson, and Brian Furney. Combined they have run for me for a total of 23 seasons. Right before the race I remind them (as if they didn’t know!) that it’s their last time wearing the Irish uniform. De Lara runs his first six 6 laps in eight minutes, which was one of our goals. For his freshman year cross country time trial he ran three laps in eight minutes. In his final race he was twice as fast. After the race I took a picture with the three of them and thanked them for allowing me to coach them for the last four years.

Micki, Brian, EJ, and I commemorate the end of their era

Before the Varsity Boys 3200 started I asked Coach Rachel Giovannetti to try to go get some field event scores from the pressbox. She confirmed that what I had for the discus and triple jump were correct but she wasn’t able to find the long jump or shot put scores. We were pretty sure those events were done so I just needed to go figure out where the scoresheets were. But the 4X4’s were about to start. I figured we just needed to do as well as possible and between races I would try to find the scoresheets.

This is there my story ended in May 2010. Ten year later, using notes I wrote back then, the results sheet, and the scoresheet I was writing on that night back in 2010, I have completed the story.

The JV Girls 4X4 is first. I am hoping we beat Mitty as any point advantage at this point is good and since I don’t know what happened at shot put or long jump. We were seeded to do well in both events but it would take just one upset by a Mitty athlete to swing our 3.5 lead into a deficit.

As the race unfolds, I end up forgetting all about Mitty, because our girls are in a tight battle with St Francis for the win. Erica Hipp anchors us with a 61.7 split and we take second. Mitty is well back in third place. 8-6 for SHC. The score is now 118-112.5. We now lead by 5.5 points. I need to find the elusive shot put and long jump results.

I hear from someone that Steve Filios picked up the shot put and long jump results. I intercept Filios on his way to the press box and ask to see the results. He reads it to me. Shot Put. Tyhana Cooper (SHC)-second. Mitty-first. Long Jump. Mitty first and third. SHC-Allegra Bautista-second, Fue Tualauleilei-fourth, Gabby Vitug-fifth. I don’t even write down the marks. I don’t care.

I have all the results. The JV Girls meet is done. I just need to add up the scores. I run to the middle of the field where I can be alone and kneel down and start writing and adding. I’m breathing hard and my hands are shaking. The shot put was 8 points for us and 10 for Mitty. Long jump was 14-16. So we net lost four points in these two events. That means the 5.5 point lead after the 4X4 will shrink down to 1.5 but we’ll still win!

Checking the numbers with Coach Rachel Giovannetti

Rachel probably sees me writing hurriedly and knows what I am doing. She comes over and I tell her that it was close but we did it….but to not say anything yet. Coach Tony Tran finds me and says he’s been looking all over for me to give me results….that he has good news and bad news. I tell him that I got the results and that we’re good.

Varsity Boys 4X4 getting ready to close out the meet

By this time the last race is about to start, the Varsity Boys 4X4. Another chance to qualify athletes for CCS. We do a quick team cheer before the race and I send the boys out on to the track. They run terrific. 52 for Del Bianco, 52 for Jarrett Moore, 51 for Parrish, and Gary Moore anchors us with a 50.8 and we finish third in 3:27. We mob Gary at the finish line. Doug Parrish is so tired, I end up having to hold him up so he can stand.

The meet is now over and we’re just waiting for the official final score to be announced. I go double check my calculations in the press box. The official confirm it and tell me to take the JV Girls championship plaque. I hide it in my backpack as I walk back down to the field where the team is lingering. We are the only team left. Everyone else has left. Nathalie Hechinger asks if I know the result. I must smile in some way giving it away even though I shrug, because she smiles back at me and says, “yeah, you know,” and walks away. Finally the announcer gets on the PA (perhaps realizing SHC is waiting on the field specifically to hear the JV Girls score read) and starts reading the scores. At some point he says that Mitty is second, which means SHC is first. The team starts cheering. Everyone. Not just the JV Girls. Because this is an overall team success for all of us to relish and celebrate. We’re so busy cheering, I don’t think anyone hears how close the final score is. SHC over Mitty, 140-138.5. A WCAL Championship by 1.5 points.

The dope sheet I used at the meet to keep track of the scoring. 140-138.5!
2010 JV Girls WCAL Champions!
Celebrating an almost perfect 2010 WCAL Finals – one team champion, six CCS qualifiers

Being a Coach when COVID-19 Closed Bay Area Schools

Posted in Coaching,SHC Track & Field by Andy Chan on March 15, 2020
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I was already tired and had a lot of things on my plate when this week started. We had two meets the previous weekend, I lost an hour due to daylight savings time, and my shoes were still wet after being out in the rain for the aforementioned two meets. But this was not going to be a normal week and I needed to power on and be ready.

I attacked each issue one at a time. Was there going to be practice on Monday? What will we do when the school closes for five days – are outdoor off-campus practices allowed? Is the meet on Wednesday at Washington still happening? What about the meet on Saturday at Lincoln? Where can we practice on Wednesday if there is no meet? Should I just cancel all practices on Thursday since there is no available facility or coaches available? Where can we move the pole vault practice scheduled for Riordan? Is there an alternate meet the team can go to on Saturday? What will we do now that the Archdiocese has closed all schools until March 25? What are other schools doing?

By Tuesday evening, the issues had narrowed to three things: 1. Would there be Wednesday practice? 2. Would there be Friday practice? 3. Would we go to the meet at Aragon HS on Saturday. Entries for the meet were due at midnight. I needed to make a decision if it was worth it to enter 80+ athletes. I was waiting for the school to send me directives about practice and meets during the closure.

Some time before going to sleep Tuesday night, I think I knew in my heart what was going to happen. I didn’t do the entries. We might have Wednesday practice so I could talk to the team in person. But we were going to shut everything down after that – no Friday practice, no Saturday meet, no other track & field activities until school re-opens. This was my plan and I was comfortable with this, regardless of what the school decided.

Wednesday morning I got word that starting on Thursday all SHC athletics activities (practices and competitions) would be suspended until at least March 25. I started working on the speech that I would deliver to the team and later post on Schoology. The theme would be “The What and the Why.” I wanted everyone to know both “What” was happening but also “Why.” I wanted the word choices in my speech, my body language, and the tone of my delivery to convey my total belief that this was the right thing to do. As a leader, I felt that if I showed confidence, the team would more easily accept the disappointment.

Come Thursday morning, I had a lot of loose ends to tie up. I removed practices from our Google calendar, canceled buses with our athletic director, canceled the hotel and bus for our planned overnight trip, and removed meets from our schedule. I had already given some thought to the suggested distance training plan that I would post, so it was pretty easy to type and post that.

After that flurry of activity, I suddenly had nothing to do. It felt strange. It’s the second week of March and my life should be full of making weekly calendars and meet sheets, updating best marks files, writing workouts, and checking in with kids – about their grades, their training, their performances so far in the season, and life in general. Instead I was sitting at home at my makeshift office on the dining room table.

In previous stressful situations I could do what I always do – bring my team together. Their love would inspire me to be the best coach I could be. I would talk to them, measure the room, see who was particularly stressed out. I would look people in directly in the eyes and offer re-assuring words and hugs. But this time, coming together as a group was exactly what the department of public health wanted us to NOT DO.

My usual day of being passionate about track & field, interacting with the kids, and being my typical goofy self were on an extended time out. That’s when I decided I would post on Schoology every day a “2 Things From Andy” post. The first item would be something track & field related to keep the sport that brings us together as a community on people’s minds. The second item would be some random mundane thing….whatever pops in my head, the goofier the better. It would help the kids feel like they were at practice listening to me talk. At the end, I would ask them a question and ask them to comment back so they would feel like they were talking to me….and so I could feel like I was with them as I read their responses. These posts were going to be as much for me as they are for them.

I take my role as a leader for the SHC Track & Field program very seriously. I feel it’s my responsibility to frame things for the kids to help them cope. I stumbled onto someone’s social media post and decided to borrow parts of it and add to it. It’s been an unprecedented week everywhere. I’ve had to think about things and plan for things that nothing could have prepared me for.

I closed this most crazy of weeks by sharing with the team this idea: It’s OK to be sad/angry/disappointed that these things that you really enjoy and that you were planning on happening are being taken away (canceled or postponed). Feeling those emotions doesn’t make you a selfish person. It is possible to be both a caring person, empathetic to the situation, AND upset as to how it is personally changing your life.

Stay safe, everyone. Be smart. Everyone do your part. And hopefully, before we know it, we’ll be back out there doing our thing.

From Jury Duty to Fresno

Posted in Coaching,SHC Cross Country by Andy Chan on November 17, 2019
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30 people strong - CCS runners, alternates, and managers

This all started on Monday June 10. It was a 6:00 pm practice because I was on jury duty. It was one of the hottest days of the year and even in San Francisco it was well over 90 degrees when we met at 6:00 that evening. That’s where the journey for the 2019 Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC) Cross Country team began.

Along our journey we enjoyed countless memories together. We had a great summer of training. We started to see who was going to step up to fill the shoes of the six varsity boys from last year that were not going to be on the team this year. Late in the summer, we realized that there was a “fast kid” transferring in to SHC from Lowell. We took an epic trip to Oregon that included an 18 hour Amtrak train ride (each way) and sleeping 300 steps from the starting line in the barracks at Camp Rilea in Seaside. We started to more publically appreciate and thank the amazing work done by our managers. New faces got their first taste of varsity as CCS alternates, some of whom were probably not even thinking about this as a possibility at the start of the season. As a team, we ran amazingly fast races at WCAL.

All of a sudden it was CCS Week. The preview article implied that SHC was seeded third in both the Girls and Boys races. Third is solid. But third is not the place you want to finish, when only the top two teams qualify for State. For the Girls the battle would be with SI and Aptos. SI looked tough to beat. We didn’t know much about Aptos but we respected that they were good and would be a challenge to beat. For the Boys, all indications were that it would be a close race between us, St. Ignatius (SI), and Riordan, with Saratoga and maybe Aptos also in the mix.

Before the meet there was a lot of talk about how when you have high hopes there is potential for disappointment. We emphasized that this was OK….that it was part of sport….that it was a gift to have the opportunity to compete under these circumstances, stressful as they might be. Deep inside, though, what we all wanted was for both teams to qualify for State. The plan was to run the race and then after the race, we’d add up the scores and see if we made it.

The theme for the whole season had been, “Keep Calm and Throw Your Darts.” We wanted the kids to feel that they had permission to go for it….to keep throwing their darts and see what stuck. A side theme for CCS was the idea that, “Pain is Temporary. Pride is Forever.” We knew it was going to be tough in the last mile and that people would be hurting. The hope was the idea of having pride forever in their race, would help them overcome the temporary pain of racing the last mile at Crystal Springs.

Race morning, we reminded everyone that you can’t always take first place but you can always run to win. And we wanted our team to go for winning races at CCS. The Girls were told to just be themselves because, “no one is better at being you, than you.” The boys were told that I was proud of them for fighting so hard to be in position to make State. But that we were greedy and we wanted one more thing to be proud of so they should go out there and fight for State.

Those were the final instructions the teams were given. Then, before we knew it, the races were underway.  

The Girls got to the two mile mark and we found ourselves one point behind Aptos for second place with a mile to go. The Boys, despite our top two runners being off their game, were actually leading a tight battle against SI and Riordan but beginning to fall back with a mile to go.

It’s hard to put into words what transpired in those last miles. It was something out of a fairy tale. There was suspense, heroes and heroines, dramatic finishes, and a happy ending that left us all breathless.

We did so much between that first day in June and the moment each runner got to the mile to go mark. No one thing was “the” thing. It was a combination of many things. All the training and all the motivational talks/quotes/sayings were to have people ready to race this last mile at this exact moment. I think the fact that we teach the kids to love one another and to really care about making State, is huge. Every single one of them wants to contribute something to the cause. No one wants to let down the team. Everyone wants the season to go on for two more weeks – so we can take a dance class, so we can have another overnight trip, so we can dress up for dinner in Fresno, so we can have an emotional team meeting, and countless other traditions that are small and silly but mean the world to us.

The Girls pushed like I have never seen them push before. We kept screaming to them that every place was going to count and that “pride would be forever” if they could pass just one more runner. We finished fast and passed people. Sabina ran the fastest last mile of everyone in the race, except the race winner, and moved from eighth to fifth. Liz passed one runner. Kate, who the night before e-mailed me that she was feeling sick and wasn’t sure she should race or not, passed two. Tessa and Corona passed five and three runners. They both passed Aptos’ #4 runner. Gigi and Kennedy both fought to stay ahead of Aptos’ fifth runner. We improved our places by 14 in the last mile.

The Boys were actually leading the close battle with a mile to go but you could tell that SI and Riordan were closing on us. Aptos and Saratoga had runners up front, too, so it was possible they were in the mix. It was impossible to sort this out with the human eye. All we could do was yell to the guys that it was close and they needed to fight for every place and, of course, “to throw all their darts.” Andrew and Sedge had been out really fast and were now suffering in the heat. We tried to get them to fight to hold on to their current place. Dylan was chasing a pack that included Riordan runners. One of those Riordan guys had previously beat Dylan head to head five times (by :48, :44, :44, :30, and :31). But not on this day. At CCS, Dylan edged him out by one place and 0.29 seconds, good for a two point swing. Gavin and Briac were clearly exhausted. They would speed up and pass someone when we cheered them on but they would then fall back again. With 200 meters to go, I yelled to them one last time. “Run us to Fresno!” In the end, Gavin stayed in the same place he was a the two mile mark. Briac fell back but was the fastest fifth runner in the race. Mason was the fastest sixth runner, and he beat both SI and Riordan’s fifth runner.

After the Girls race, it just felt like we had beaten Aptos. The Girls had run so well in the last mile and I knew we made up a lot of points. Finally the score popped up on my phone. SI-50, SHC-67, Aptos-75. We made it by 8 points!

After the Boys race, it was just too close to call. We all found each other and gathered around my phone. The quick scores showed SI and us tying, with Riordan just 4 points back. I knew that this could change so I tried to keep everyone from celebrating too soon. Someone saw SI cheering and wondered what that meant. At some point I looked at a few of the boys and said, “No matter what this phone says in a few minutes, it won’t change that we raced great. Let’s try not to let what the phone says define this race.” A few seconds later, a tab appeared on my phone’s screen saying click here for final official results. The kids said I was shaking as I pressed on it. SI-87, SHC-88, Riordan-90. Yes, we missed winning by one point. But somehow we didn’t even care. What we cared about was that we were going to State….by just two points.

Qualifying both teams to State is our most beloved goal. We’ve been blessed to have it happen five times in the last ten years. It’s happened in a variety of different ways and circumstances. All of them have been memorable in their own way.

We can now add the 2019 CCS Meet and more specifically the last miles of both the Girls and Boys races to the list of legendary moments in SHC Cross Country history. The season that started with a 6:00 pm practice in June because of jury duty, will end Thanksgiving weekend in Fresno.

Varsity Girls - 3rd straight trip to State, 6 out of the last 10 years.
Varsity Boys - 7th time to State in the last 10 years.

Raining on your Parade

Posted in Coaching,SHC Cross Country by Andy Chan on December 27, 2018
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IMG_1299I’m sorry, boys of the 2018 SHC Cross Country team. I MAY have told you a little white lie before the Central Coast Section Championship race (CCS). But it was only because I was trying to prepare you to achieve our goal, to make it to the California State Cross Country Championship Meet (State).

With less than week until CCS, I felt we were getting a little over-confident. A little too focused on beating Greenfield to win CCS. We were bordering on losing focus on the primary goal, to place in the top two and qualify for State. I worried that this singular focus on beating Greenfield might cause us to commit the cardinal sin of how not to race on the Crystal Springs course – going out too hard and fading in the last mile. My mantra has always been, you don’t qualify for State in the first mile; you qualify for State in the last mile. I wanted to create a scenario in your minds, one that made you nervous enough to stick to our season-long plan.

That’s why I came up with my speech.

That’s why I rehearsed it in my head while running the day before delivering it to you.

That’s why I rehearsed it again in my office before practice, and again in the car driving to practice.

After I sent the girls on an adventure run, I gathered you boys around me.

IMG_1470“How we doing, guys? Feeling good? Feeling confident?” I began.

I heard a few responses. “Yeah, we’re good.” “We got this, coach.”

That was my cue to begin my Oscar-winning performance. Was every word I was about to utter the complete truth? No. Was this what you, my team, needed to hear at this moment? Yes.

“Well, I’m here…to rain…on your…parade.”

“Greenfield has been holding back all year. They’re just waiting to drop a bomb on us. And there’s a mystery team, because there’s always a mystery team, that will come out of nowhere and get out hard. They’ll be ahead of us at the two mile mark. They’re trying to take OUR spot to State.”

“The only way to prevent that is to race smart. I need you to go out and run the first mile like we’ve been practicing. Don’t change things. The race starts at the mile mark. You have to be ready to fight during the last mile, and when you get to the top of Cardiac hill, you will have less than five minutes to write the story where WE go to State.”

I paused and slowly looked around the circle. Everyone was quiet. I had everyone’s attention. In some ways, I knew at that moment, we’d be okay. After my speech you nailed a good track workout. Despite CCS being postponed three times due to the poor air quality and an extremely stressful ten day lead-up to the actual CCS race, when the race finally happened, you got it done.

Andy Chan 2.0

Posted in Coaching,SHC Cross Country by Andy Chan on November 23, 2017
Tags: , ,

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For most of my twenty years as the head cross country coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral, the week before the Section Championships (CCS Week we call it), has been filled with very specific race day preparations. My style and belief has been that to prepare the runners to be ready for the moment, we should do specific training and have specific conversations about how the race will probably play out. There has been a lot of talk about qualifying for State Meet. Tactically, we have discussed where to try to position oneself early in the race, a first mile time goal, when to surge, and what teams to be looking for. We’ve gone so far as to pass around pictures of the teams we are competing with, so our team would know what color uniforms to be looking for.

I felt this year’s Boys team, given their experience, would be able to run a solid race regardless of my coaching tactics. I had no regrets about their training. I felt confident they would go out and give everything they had. The question was, was their best going to be good enough to place in the top two to qualify for State. As it turned out, Aptos and Greenfield were just too fast for us. We ended up a solid fourth but we were a far distance from for second. I was at peace with that.

The Girls team on the other hand, was new to the sport, inexperienced at championship level racing; a very un-confident group. My usual CCS Week talks, workouts, and activities were not going to work. They would only serve to make the Girls more nervous. I needed to give them emotional support and mental confidence, much more than physical training and race information.

I am proud of myself because during CCS Week I basically re-invented myself as a coach. Andy Chan 2.0, one of the girls called it.

Tactics were replaced by focusing only on what is controllable (effort and attitude) and letting go of the un-controllable things, like how the other teams raced.

The usual overall race plan was replaced with just focusing on the next 30 seconds to one minute of the course.

Talk about State Meet was replaced by reminders that we love them, no matter the outcome.

On Monday, we held hands before the hill workout and I had everyone think of someone that loves them unconditionally. On Tuesday, we all shared who we had thought about who loves us unconditionally. A game of duck, duck, goose followed. Then I passed out index cards and pens and told them to write down anything that was stressing them; I then asked them to write down the worst thing that could happen at the meet. After some sharing, I told them to rip up their card into as many pieces as they wanted and then throw the scraps into the garbage can before starting their warm-up.

CCS Week had become Kumbaya Week.

We held hands a lot. We formed a lot of circles when we talked. I sat down with them for meetings rather than standing over them.

I heard later that the kids were talking about it outside of practice, “What do you think he’s going to do today?” No we didn’t write our names in blood or sacrifice Lawrence at the team dinner. But I had them guessing now and more importantly had them thinking about what I would do next instead of worrying about the upcoming race.

At the team dinner, we played some crazy games. Everyone brought a stuffed animal and shared a story about their stuffed animal. The only time I said the word “State” that night was during the meeting when I said, “Getting to State isn’t that big a deal. It’s getting to spend an extra two weeks with the team that’s special.”

I went to the school’s Academic Resource Specialist (Cally Salzman) for advice. I figured she works with students who get nervous and struggle in class. I hoped she could give me a tip or two to help at the meet. She suggested giving them some time to sit alone, breathe deeply, and listen to music.

Normally we just send the team out to warm-up on their own with a basic idea of what time they should be ready to go to the starting line. Not Andy Chan 2.0. We gave them a very structured warm-up schedule. There was no time to get nervous because they were constantly checking the schedule to stay on task. Everything was plotted out. Usually I don’t let kids use their phones once we get to the meet. But this time I made an exception so we could use Cally’s suggestion. We gave five minutes of “Alone Time” for anyone who thought it would help them to sit, breathe deeply and listen to music.

At the starting line during the team huddle, I reminded them to focus on effort and attitude only. They should only concern themselves with the next thirty seconds to one minute of the course. If their mind wandered at all, they should think about how much everyone loves them.

During the race, I only said things related to effort and attitude and I gave them short term goals, things they would focus on for only a few seconds to a minute. This wasn’t easy for me, as I am wired to shout out their position in the race or who we needed to catch in order to qualify for State. In fact, I had to rehearse this strategy the night before the race.

Halfway through the race, I could tell that Aptos was way out in front and was going to win. The top three girls teams would qualify for State and mid-race it was clearly North Monterey Country (NMC) and Sobrato in second and third. I heard the announcer say we were in fourth and that our San Francisco rival, St Ignatius (SI) was in fifth.

In the last mile, I noticed SI was making a strong move up and that NMC and Sobrato were falling back. But still, every time I cheered for our Girls, all I would say was “give me a good effort,” “focus on attitude,” and “pass one person between here and the turn.” I never once shouted to them about the other teams’ position.

At the finish, I was super pleased. We had run great races all around. The Girls looked pleased but also nervous. They were wondering if we had qualified for State. I remember running up to them and telling them that they ran great, that that was the race we wanted and that we didn’t need a results sheet to tell us it was a good day. As we walked to the start line for the Boys race, I wouldn’t let myself think about whether we qualified or not. I was happy with the race. I wanted to follow my own advice and not care (too much) about the result.

Then we heard an unofficial announcement that we were third. That made things difficult. It would be too painful to start thinking we made it, only to find out that we hadn’t when the official results came out. I didn’t want to go down that road and I didn’t want the Girls to either. So I kept telling them to wait…to not celebrate yet. I was having an internal fight in my head, on one side I wanted to consider what it would be like if we qualified for State. On the other side, I kept saying to myself, “don’t go there.”

IMG_9470Finally, on my fiftieth refresh of the results web page in the twenty minutes since the race had ended, I saw the official results. Only fifteen points separated second place from fifth place. We were a State Meet qualifying third place, only six points ahead of Sobrato and only eight points ahead of NMC!

Wow! A lot of things went into this achievement. Mostly the girls who ran. But also the support from the alternates, the other coaches and the rest of the team. And if the Andy Chan 2.0 coaching style contributed just a little, I’m proud of that, too.

Cheering for Amy

Cheering for Amy_after the race_photo by Paul Merca

Amy Cragg after her 3rd place finish. Photo by Paul Merca.

Malinda and I decided to go out on the marathon course at the 2017 World Championships and watch and cheer for the women’s race. By the time we got on to the course near St. Paul’s Cathedral, the race leaders were nearing the halfway point. Great Britain’s Alyson Dixon had built up an early thirty second lead but there was a large chase pack of runners including Amy Crag and Serena Burla. By the time we saw the runners again, they were at the 30K mark and we noticed that Cragg was leading the front pack of about fourteen runners.

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Amy Cragg (nee Hastings) has qualified to represent the USA at five global championships since 2011 in three different events. She was fifteenth in the 5,000 meters at the 2011 Daegu World Championships. She was eleventh and fourteenth in the 10,000 meters at the 2012 London Olympics and 2013 Moscow World Championships. She was ninth in the Marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Cragg is no stranger to competing in these big races. She has made steady improvements but hadn’t yet truly contended for a spot on the podium. Going into this race her personal best in the marathon was 2:27:03, only the twenty-second fastest time out of all the competitors. But that’s why they run the race.

We decided to move closer to the finish line to cheer. Malinda picked a spot on a tough uphill section that we later estimated was about one kilometer from the finish. “This is where she’ll need cheering the most,” Malinda reasoned as we found a spot on a barricade to tie our USA flag. I found a wifi signal and started to monitor Twitter for race updates.

When these last two tweets came through, I told Malinda to get ready because from the time stamps I could tell they were only one or two minutes away.

cheering-for-amy_waiting-at-the-hill-with-1k-to-go.jpg

Here came the lead motorcycle, then the truck photographers, and, after a small gap, the Toyota with the Seiko clock displaying the running time of the race on top. Chelimo and Kiplagat ran by, but I hardly noticed them. I leaned over the barricade and craned my neck to try to see around the corner. There they were, Cheyech with Cragg a few steps back. “Come on, Amy!” we shouted, “Dig deep!” She had a determined look on her face as she attacked the hill. At that point a man in a blue Nike shirt sprinted by and yelled to Amy, “She’s slowing, Amy. She’s all yours.” I looked at Malinda and said, “That’s Amy’s husband.”

 

Cheering for Amy_still in 4th

We quickly untied our USA flag and took off running, trying to keep up with the husband (Alistair Cragg). Alistair is a former elite runner himself and I was trying not to spill my coffee, so we didn’t keep up. Then I saw a bar and thought that we should go in and see if they have a television. Right as I got to the door, Alistair came out. A man wearing a red Bowerman Track Club shirt was with him. Since they were leaving, we knew there was no television in that bar so we didn’t even go in to look. We all took off running in the direction of the finish line. I started putting it all together and realized Bowerman Track Club shirt guy was Cragg’s coach, Jerry Schumacher. Somehow Jerry and I got slowed down by some slow moving pedestrians and Alistair and Malinda got ahead of us and out of sight. We passed another bar. I looked all around and didn’t see Malinda. I thought to myself, “Do I go in the bar or keep running down the street?” As I contemplated my decision and the possible ramifications of each option, I heard a voice shout, “Jerry, they got one!” We turned and saw Alistair pointing inside. So, it was Jerry Schumacher. But more importantly, The Liberty Bounds had a TV!

Jerry and I raced inside. I glanced around trying to figure out if Malinda was there or not. Initially I didn’t spot her but then I heard her voice, “She’s got it!” We were all staring at the television and screaming for Amy. “Where’s the finish? How much farther?” Alistair asked. “It’s just on to the Bridge,” I shouted back. I did compose myself to take this wonderful picture of Jerry, Alistair, and Malinda gazing at the screen.

Cheering for Amy_Alistair and Jerry

After Amy crossed the line in third, Jerry and Alistair hugged. Malinda bear hugged Ailstair and told him congratulations. Jerry pointed at Alistair and shouted, “That’s the husband of third place.” And then Alistair shouted, “And this is the coach!” I patted them on the back as they took off running towards the finish to join Amy.

Malinda and I looked at each other and said to each other, “Wow!”

The end of the Bolt era, but not the moment track & field wanted

The end of the Bolt era_UslainSaturday August 5, 2017 was the 100 meter final at the 2017 World Championships. Usain Bolt had already announced that this would be his final individual race (he will still race in the 4X100 relay next week). With thirteen individual gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters from the Olympics and World Championships, this was a much anticipated finale for track & field’s biggest star.

If Bolt were to win, he would go out in style, doing what he has done almost without fail since 2008 – WIN. There would be loud cheering, perhaps as loud as it was when the Brit’s own Mo Farah won the night before. There would be throngs of photographers following him, imploring him to do his famous “Bolt Arms” pose. The Jamaican fans would cheer wildly. Bolt would take a long, circuitous lap around the track that would both be a victory lap and a farewell lap.

On the other hand, 21-year old American Christian Coleman, owner of a 9.82 personal record that makes him the fourth fastest American in history, seemed ready to beat Bolt. Perhaps a Coleman win at these World Championships would represent an official “changing of the guard” – Bolt passing the baton to his heir apparent as sprint king.

Either scenario would give track & field a signature moment.

But instead, track & field got an eyesore of a moment.

Justin Gatlin, an athlete mired with doping allegations and drug suspensions in his past, was the man who beat Bolt in Bolt’s last race. All meet long, whenever Gatlin was introduced, the knowledgeable London fans would boo. Not the most sportsmanlike thing to do but it is hard to be critical of the booing.

If you need a refresher course on Gatlin, here it is. In 2001, while in college at the University of Tennessee, Gatlin failed a drug test. The drug was an amphetamine that was in a medicine he was taking for attention deficit disorder (ADD). Gatlin’s initial two year suspension was shortened when the details about the medication were uncovered. But he was informed at that time that any subsequent positive drug test would be treated as a second offense (which comes with a lifetime ban).

He had a very successful 2004-2005, winning the gold in the 100 meters at the Athens Olympics and winning the gold in both the 100 and 200 meters the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

In May 2006, Gatlin ran a World Record tying time of 9.77. However that mark was annulled after he failed a drug test from a meet in April (the result did not come back until June). Gatlin and his coach Trevor Graham (himself linked to eleven athletes who tested positive on a drug test and/or served a drug suspension) claimed Gatlin was sabotaged by their massage therapist Chris Whetstine. They claimed Whetstine massaged testosterone cream into Gatlin’s legs and that’s what led to the positive drug test. This being his second offense, should have meant a lifetime ban. However, Gatlin cooperated with anti-doping officials and because of the “exceptional circumstances” of his first offense, Gatlin was given an eight year ban, rather than a lifetime ban. Gatlin appealed the suspension and it was eventually reduced to four years.

Thus Gatlin returned to competition in 2010. All this time, Gatlin has not apologized for any of his actions nor admitted to any wrongdoing. He has carried on as if nothing happened. Which has only increased the dislike for him by fans of the sport. There is also a strong feeling among experts and scientists that once an athlete uses performance enhancing drugs, their physiology is changed and the performance enhancing benefits will last beyond the time the drug was taken. That’s the rationale for lifetime bans on even a first or minor offense.

That’s the man that won Bolt’s last race. That’s the man the London crowd has been booing non-stop. That’s why this was the worst case scenario for track & field.

The end of the Bolt era_embracing GatlinAfter the race, the crowd was stunned and didn’t know what to do. They booed Gatlin. They cheered with appreciation for Bolt. Bolt, showing class and sportsmanship in defeat, a situation he has not often faced, embraced Gatlin. Bolt took a somewhat subdued farewell lap, waving and thanking the fans. He was interviewed on the stadium big screen, where he showed nothing but class. Gatlin did not take a victory lap and was not interviewed on the stadium big screen. The medal ceremony has not happened yet. I have to wonder what will happen when it does.

The end of the Bolt era_waving goodbye

Thus, on the same night that four athletes received re-allocated medals from previous World Championships due to doping disqualifications, a person that most track fans consider a two-time drug cheat, won what was perhaps the most anticipated and watched race of all-time. Track & field has created this situation by not coming down on drug cheats as strongly as many call for. And so now they have to live with these results – Gatlin winning the race and no signature farewell moment for Bolt.

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