Remastered B-Side: The Varsity

Varsity - 'the principal team representing a school, university or college in sports, games, or other competitions.'

I was reading the preview to the Thornwood Open last week. It said it was involving as many athletes as possible; this was not going to be a limited entry meet.  It got me to thinking about my days of running "varsity" in high school.  Things were done differently then.  You "earned" a spot on the varsity squad it was not automatic.

Just one day before I read about the Thornwood Open, one of my boys Kelly from Chicago, put some varsity pictures up from his senior year of high school on Facebook.  After all the years that have passed, you could still see what being on varsity meant to him.

When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to the City track meet.  It was one of the most hyped-up meets of the season.  It was a chance for us to see the top high school track athletes that we had been reading about all season go head-to-head.  I can remember sitting in the bleachers saying to myself 'one day I'll be down there running.' 

I was one of the top club athletes in the summer and lived for the day when I could run varsity track for my high school.  My junior high school (Roosevelt) was a powerhouse in track and field.  We surely would have won state if they had the IESA series.  Every Thursday, we checked the newspaper looking at the area's best high school rankings to see how we stacked up against the local high school varsity runners.  I still remember that my 8th-grade times would have placed me as the second-fastest sprinter on the varsity squad.  Our junior high team was a heralded class that would be going into high school.  So much so that the varsity squad got in trouble skipping practice to come watch our meet.  

The freshman year finally arrived and I only ran in one freshman meet, the city meet.  I had arrived!  After years of training and dreaming, I had made varsity as a freshman.  At that time, it was almost impossible to do.  There are certain things that come with running varsity.  If you ran varsity, you wore the "blues", as we called them, with the school name on the back with white letters.  The freshman wore the "grays."  The regular heavy gray sweats (every school has), were warmer but when they got wet they weighed an extra 10 pounds!  The varsity wore their blue warm-up jacket on meet day and got all the good luck hugs from the girls.  If you moved up from the frosh squad, it would spread all over the school like a rumor.  Everybody knew you had accomplished the ultimate.  It was a badge of honor to run varsity and wear the blues.

The memories and road trips were the best.  There was even a ranking system on the bus ride.  The elite varsity athletes got seats to themselves and sat at the back of the bus where all the fun was; the others doubled up.  At the time, hip-hop had just started and it would be a quick run to the local convenience store to get your pre-meet meal of Doritos, candy, donuts, and of course batteries for the mega boom box. 

All the music and the weekly "yo momma" joke sessions came from the back of the bus.  They never ran out of jokes.  Jerome and Sugar D were the best along with team manager George.  They kept the team loose and had us in tears laughing all the way to the meets.  By the time you arrived at the track, you had forgotten you even had a meet.

Varsity warmed up as a team and did drills as one cohesive unit.  Everybody had their game face on and blue t-shirts that said "DON'T MISS THE SHOW".  We supported each other, regardless of the event.  When the 4x4 came up, everybody had designated spots around the track with rhythmic chants and claps hyping each leg.  Those chants seemed to force you to run faster because you did not want to let the team down. 

The meet would end and we would win the meet trophy and take a victory lap as a team.  Nobody left the meet after his or her individual event, because you were "varsity".  We would form a giant circle and did what we called "Rhythm and Blues".  Each athlete's shoe touched the other, right hand up, down to the left toe, back up, left hand to the right toe.  A simple stretch turned into a rhythmic clap and chant - the varsity had won the meet.

A platter plate dinner from Lil' Porgy's BBQ after the meet was all the motivation I needed

The ride home would consist of the bus driver stopping in a parking lot across from different restaurants, unloading athletes from the back and front with a mad sprint to wherever you wanted to eat. A lot of those races to eat were better than the ones in the meet.  My spot was Lil Porgy's to get that BBQ.  I should have stock in that place by now because I continue to eat there today.  We would get full, jump on the bus and the music started blasting. 

On the ride home, I would lay in a couple of seats, stretched out in the middle of the bus, look at the top of the bus and listen to what was going on around me, trying to put it all in my mind for future years. 

The Varsity provided some of the best years of my life.  I was closer to those teammates than my college teammates.  I am still friends with a couple and stay in contact with a few online.  One teammate is a jump coach on my club team.  If you were to look at my cell phone, you would see that my wallpaper picture is of my senior year- The Varsity.