My First Cross Country Race

My First Cross Country Race (Also my first organized running competition of any kind.)
September 1969. I started my freshman year at Lowell High School but only in name, in reality I was physically at the Edith Nourse Rogers School by the South Common and a half mile walk from my home on Butterfield St. in the Acre section of the city.
The Edith Nourse Rogers School was taking on the overflow of baby boomer students flooding the main high school building in downtown Lowell.  At least they were taking on those students who were not in a college preparatory program.
The Sisters at St. Patrick’s where I attended school advised me to this end.
Most of my friends were either going to LHS or some Catholic High School like Keith Academy just across the street coincidentally from the Rogers. I felt a bit left out of things when my fellow students were taking entrance exams to different schools and so somehow or other I got the idea in my head that I would take the entrance exam for St. Francis Seminary away out in Andover on the Tewksbury line.
I told my Dad and he said “what? You are going to LHS.” Well, in a rare act of rebellion I got up early one Saturday morning and I walked close to five miles to the Seminary School to take the exam. Afterwards I started walking home and a friend I knew from St Pat’s had his Mom pick me up and give me a ride home.
I told them that I had walked out there to take the exam and they laughed and didn’t believe me. Shortly after that I received a letter from the Seminary to say that I had not scored well enough on the test and could not be accepted for enrollment.
So, I figured the Sisters were right and also my Dad would not have wanted me to go there anyway so I attended pseudo Lowell High.
Over the summer and fall I played baseball in the AYO Acre Youth Organization League on the North Common right outside the door of our tenement house where we had an apartment on the third floor. I was a decent pitcher and threw the ball sidearm, a frightening delivery for batters at the plate.
Also, a friend from school who was heading to Keith Academy shared his reading list of books that he was supposed to read over the summer. I remember reading Charles Dickens Great Expectations one of the items on his list. It was a step up from my usual reading of Horatio Alger type stories about sports heroes etc.
My eight year older brother Billy was a good athlete and coach in multiple sports and he sometimes would challenge me to races on the Common. He would give me a little head start and then blow by me and laugh. Billy, who was drafted into the Army, would be headed to Vietnam around the same time I was starting high school. My four year older brother Mike was also a good athlete but not as committed to it as Billy. Mikey liked to chase the girlies.
There was a well known boxer in our Acre neighborhood named Beau Jaynes. Beau would run around the perimeter of the North Common shadow boxing all the live long day, in Army boots, in the summer heat. A few times I and my friends tagged along behind him for a lap. He would mostly ignore us but now and then he would turn around and throw some punches our way and laugh.
The first day of school I got all dressed up as I had in grammar school where we had to wear a uniform of white shirt, green tie and dark trousers. I was especially proud of my new “wing tip” shoes. Well I set off walking to school that day I fell in with other kids doing the same and I immediately began to sense that they were all checking me out in my fancy duds. Most of them were wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Some were smoking cigarettes
I got quite an initiation in school that day. This was not going to be anything like grammar school at St. Pat’s.
In gym class, which no one changed into appropriate clothing for, but just wore their street clothes, we would pick out sides and play baseball. We had an old timey gym teacher who noticed my running skill on the base paths in my fancy pants wing tip shoes outfit, and he suggested that I go out for the cross country and track teams.
I was flattered he thought that I could be a good runner but I only had a faint idea what cross country running was all about. Another kid in my class was already on the team so the next day I met him after school and we walked out to Cawley Stadium about two miles from the Rogers School. I almost quit before I started when I realized that I would have to walk that far every day and then go run! That seemed too absurd.
When we got there the rest of the team had finished practice and the coach had already left. We changed into some running gear, for me cut off jeans and a beat up pair of sneakers and we did a bunch of 220 yard repeats.
Then we showered quickly and walked home. As I neared home my baseball coach pulled up in his car and shouted to me that practice that night would be at six. I told him I would be there but I already knew that if I liked this running thing I was through with baseball which bored me anyway.
The next day we went again to Cawley for practice after school. This time I met Coach John Lang. He wore a fedora and he smoked a pipe. I liked him right away. He explained how the cross country season was half over and that there were just a few competitions left that us newbie’s could compete in. One would be this coming Saturday at famed Franklin Park in Boston, the Catholic Memorial Invitational.
The CMI had a frosh division with a 1.7 mile race. Coach Lang gave me a uniform and some forms to fill out and told me what time to be there on Saturday. I was so excited I ran all the way home carrying all my stuff, what a sap! I’m going to Boston, yah on a bus, yah.
Saturday arrived and we headed down to Boston on a bus for our big adventure. It was a regular yellow school bus and only half full as we did not have a very big team maybe a dozen runners all together. No one spoke much on the way down and I realized everyone was pensive and a bit anxious about the upcoming race. This race would have a huge stampeding field of greenhorns like me and it was going to be war!
When we arrived and got off the bus I just sort of mimicked the others as I had no idea what to do. We got our numbers from Coach and pinned them on. Coach Lang said to “jog for ten minutes and then do some striders” I just followed everyone else.
Soon we lined up in our assigned boxes at the start and before I knew it we were all hurling ourselves out of there, I was scared shitless.
The race started up at the entrance to White Stadium and after a few hundred yards we crossed the road to the golf course where we ran a loop around the perimeter and then back across the road to the finish. I ran the whole distance engulfed in a huge pack and was just happy that I stayed on my feet. Some unlucky bastards went down and you could hear them cursing. One kid ran right into a small tree branch and nearly decapitated himself. It was awesome.
After our race we hung around and watched the upper classmen run. The guys out in front in those races looked like stallions, they were flying.
On the way home we were quite the lively group yip yapping like a group of thirteen year old girls. I realized that I had actually finished ahead of some kids on my team and Coach Lang told me I did well in my first race.
I did not realize it at the time but this was the beginning of a long involvement in running that took me far and wide.