Tony's Take: A Personal Journey Of Being An Athlete To Coach

The 2015 3A Boys 1600m was one of the coaching highlights of yours truly

The  2019-2020 Academic Calendar year has not been as kind as I would have liked to date. What has turned from a fruitful summer filled with joy and aspirations to now of despair and rotten apples. It has been said that a higher power ultimately controls things. Perhaps. Keep your faith. Yes, I know.... but let's be determined to not let the downfalls of this virus called the #coronavirus stop us.

I'VE BEEN THERE BEFORE: Like many standout juniors who completed their campaigns successfully, I was one of those same lads who soaked

up the glory of being a high school student and especially an athlete. For me, it was Terre Haute North Vigo High School which is in the middle of nowhere America but at the same time the "Crossroads of America." 

As all seniors at North High School do, I savored every step of the 'senior walk' around our huge gymnasium floor in front of the underclassmen who sat in the stands to marvel. And like many high schools in Indiana, athletics is a driving power and I intended on being in the driver's seat the entire school year. Long story short, I won the first four cross country races of my senior year as things were rolling right along (IN #2 15:18-5k). However, I caught a viral infection halfway through the season and missed a week of school and several meets. Being self-quarantined by my mother was one of the hardest things I had to experience. Laying in my bed reading the local newspaper and reading how my teammates kept it all together was encouraging. I was able to join them just in time for the post-season but things were not the same. I never fully recovered despite running my best race of the year at the semi-state against the eventual state champion Jim Kaiser of Evansville Mater Dei. Finishing it all off with a 39th place at the 1986 state championship was far from the pre-season goal I had for myself. Though I still think about the 'what-ifs' every now and then, tough times create a tough character.

...because I never won a high school state title or collegiate ring, being a coach felt like the closest thing to guiding success. Of course, not living through the kids but rather their lens is what a lot of parents don't perceive. I think I was able to successfully navigate shark-infested waters in that respect. At Lane Tech High School in Chicago, we had individuals who won trophies... win medals... get fame... the 2012 4x800 relay state crew made me cry... but Pavlo was the first to actually do it in the sport's most powerful event. He won the state "mile" title in 2015. It wasn't a cheap title. He got beat twice by the great Jon Davis of Oakwood during the year- the first azz kicking so bad that we had to completely re-evaluate what we wanted to accomplish... in the end, it was worth it. If you haven't seen the video above, watch it!

As a student-athlete and coach, the challenges of handing obstacles amid crisis are the biggest and most profiled when everyone is tuned in. I know that myself and my brethren are leaders of young adults, we must have a big enough head to wear many hats. That means playing the background scene and allowing the kids to shine and sometimes cry by themselves. It is important to see if they want success as much as we do or even more.

THE STRIKE: As most of you know the Chicago Public League kids had to endure a rough teacher's strike which lasted several weeks during the latter stages of the cross country season. It produced national attention amid them losing out on the post-season. It was incredibly hard not only as a coach, but it was especially hard for the seniors who were not afforded a fair opportunity to showcase their talent.

THE CORONA VIRUS: As devasting as the strike was, this current challenge is undoubtedly the biggest anyone has ever faced (arguably). We have been defeated and whipped before but this one really hurts. We have quietly seen what was a localized viral outbreak started in China, spread across the globe in approximately 48 days have done. It caught us all off guard. Can I recover? Can we recover? I have spent an ample amount of time to reflect. I love history so I read up on some of history's travesties. For example, I learned that the Spanish Flu of 1918 infected nearly a third of the world's population. Some estimates say that nearly 40 million people perished- a pandemic in all sense and purposes. In recent times, there has been the Swine Flu, SARS, and now the CORONA VIRUS. I will not go into full detail, but the vast majority of the world's population are living in a time that's unprecedented. They said it will get worse before it gets better. In a nutshell, when you contract a serious illness as I did back in the day, it gets REAL BAD before the symptoms go away. I believe that is what we all are going to experience. In a max oven temperature of 500 degrees, things may cook up around 450° before it's all over... just keeping it real.

THE ENDING: Can we have a storybook ending here? If somehow there is an abbreviated season it may be the best one in America's history. But speaking specifically stateside, we are going to witness some hungry lion type performances from our great athletes. Moreover, I think we will see a side of general compassion for one another like never before. Just recently on a run, I saw a fellow runner who was moving in the opposite direction glance over and smile at me, and I gave her the universal Peace sign. Stay Strong America!