Royal Oak Glory Days vs. Golden Years
A former Dondero track star takes a visit back in time with Royal Oak High School’s track team.
For those of us who like to compete athletically, age can be the ultimate opponent. The transition from high school athlete to weekend warrior is an art form. If not handled with grace and aplomb, the inevitable results range from an embarrassing pratfall to a pulled hamstring or a more serious injury.
The good news is that there are plentiful “masters” leagues that allow us to compete against folks our own age whose skills have pretty much deteriorated at the same rate as ours. But we can’t help but cheer for the 49-year-old baseball pitcher that racks up a major league win or the aging golfer that makes a run at a major championship. That could be us, we think!
We wistfully look back at the glory days when memories were made and you can still see that perfect athletic moment of youth.
That’s about as far as it goes for most of us, other than for the periodic alumni games. Not so for my younger brother David Boylan, a Royal Oak Dondero track star circa 1983.
David lives in Encinitas, CA, where he is marketing whiz for solar companies via his own agency, Artichoke Creative. While his favorite athletic activity is now surfing with his son Quinn, he still competes in masters track meets in San Diego in the sprint events.
On a recent visit back to his hometown, he told me he had been in touch with Royal Oak High School's track coach about participating in a workout. It seemed like a natural story. All I had to do was goad him into racing the young high school athletes.
“You’re out of your mind if you think I’m going to race those young bucks,” was my brother’s reply to my “suggestion.” But the seed had been planted.
I arrived at the Royal Oak Ravens track and met coaches David Barnett and Ryan Piippo. Barnett, a science teacher, has been coaching track and cross country for 15 years and Piippo, a history teacher, has been coaching for nine years. Both look like the runners they still are and clearly enjoy their work.
“It’s like a second full-time job during the season,” Piippo said, “but we love it.” You can witness that by watching their easy camaraderie and instruction to their young athletes.
Coach Barnett told me they have a good group of athletes this year, and better yet, just a good group of kids. The team is off to a good start with a 4-2 record in dual meets.
"This is my 15th year coaching cross country and track in Royal Oak," Barnett said. "Since the schools have combined, we've had a lot of success: three league titles and a number of all-state athletes." Dondero and Kimball high schools consolidated in 2006.
Athletes Marcio Foster Jr., Kenny Vincent, Blaine Anderson and Ahmond Sigler are part of the solid core of this year’s team.
In addition, two school records have already gone down this season. Freshman Ben Hill broke the 3200m record by 15 seconds with a time of 9:37.2 and the distance medley relay team of Adam Quinn, senior; Leonard Jackson, senior; Max Benoit, junior, and Hill shaved a second off the old record to set a new standard of 10:52.3.
The coaches and their runners were good eggs about letting David workout with them. I watched as David went through the warm-ups. Yes, it’s a stark contrast when a 47-year-old is working out with teenagers, but he was keeping up.
David was a very good sprinter back in the day with his best time at 10 seconds flat in the 100 yard dash, before the switch was made to meters. That’s fast. He and Dondero Oak teammates David Groh, Greg Williams and Paul Beckhamheld hold a long-standing 4 x 100 record.
Given his lineage, it was a sure bet he’d land up racing against the current athletes, who didn’t know it but were building their own memories. I was right. Although it wasn’t an official race, David did line up against the high school sprinters in an all-out 50-meter sprint drill.
“My first thought was if I could avoid yanking a hammy, I would be fine. As I settled into the blocks, I felt like I was having a recurring dream where I’m at my current age, but find myself competing again in a high school meet and I can’t find my shoes or my jersey," David said. "But I as I settled into my sprinters crouch and burst out, to my surprise, I was in the middle of the pack. I was hanging with the high schoolers!"
The high school athletes were very cool after the race, giving David compliments, sort of.
“Wow, nice running for an old guy.”
“How old are you, like 30?”
“Did you have starting blocks back in the day?”
There was middle school meet following practice and David saw the son of his old track coach, Mr. McElroy.
"I wondered who the old guy was keeping up with the kids," said McElroy, who was working a meet following the practice.
It was a rewarding afternoon for David and I'm while I'm sure the young track stars making there own memories couldn't fathom being an "old" runner, at least they'll have a point of reference one day.
The postscript for David was the following day when he reported to me, "I'm hurting in muscles I haven't felt since I was teenager after that workout."
I think the lesson is: While we may not be able return to the glory of our youth, we can revisit the pain!
It's Monday, let's go...slowly!