Time was running short for Arrowhead boys track coach Chris Herriot and his band of assistant coaches, athletes and fans on Sunday, July 20.
Though the WIAA had allotted districts and and all the spring sports that were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic 30 contact days in July to have one last chance at getting some work in as well as giving their seniors a sense of closure, circumstances and a crowded schedule at the school made this particular Sunday the last day for the Arrowhead boys and girls track programs.
“They (the administration) said we were done,” said Herriot, the long-time boys coach, who has led the Warhawks to state titles in 2004 and 2009. “It was a little weird, but we were happy to have some time with the kids.
“We really wanted to get the seniors into uniforms one last time.”
Arrowhead was not alone in this endeavor. Franklin has been running a healthy contact program since the start of the month, while South Milwaukee ran a virtual meet this past weekend, and a regular summer highlight, the Wisco Mile, was held on July 19 with a modified schedule and not bad times.
In fact, Arrowhead sophomore Charlie Wesley (4:30.67) and junior Seth Ray (4:33.41), were third and fourth, respectively, in the Wisco boys one-mile run.
When these contact days started Herriot and Arrowhead were trying to put together a multi-team informal meet on July 9. Health concerns and other issues forced its cancellation which was too bad said Herriot as he noted that several area programs had expressed interest in taking part.
So in the last week, when he and his staff started running these informal intrasquad events, it was a major relief.
“It was huge,” he said. “When we shot the (starting pistol) gun for the first time and had two girls running hurdles, it was amazing. It was like ‘Oh my God, this is actually happening!'”
Herriot said that over the course of the 20 or so days the Arrowhead program had to work with their kids there were an average of 25 athletes, boys and girls combined, showing up daily. It wasn’t quite what they were hoping for, but he noted that even in this quiet summer of cancellation due to the virus (Wisconsin had reported a record new 978 cases of the virus on July 19), the kids were still being pulled left and right with other commitments.
“They were in scattered various pre-seasons, post-seasons and season-seasons,” he laughed.
Further, other sports at Arrowhead such as lacrosse and early contact days for football were cutting into time and space for the dedicated track athletes, which included pole vaulters, sprinters, hurdlers, distance runners and the occasional guest from another school such as Evan Finger of Dodgeland who turned in a fine 2:02 800 meters on Sunday (that was after he had finished fifth in the Wisco boys mile the day before).
Even legendary area coach Bob Zahn who has helped out at Concordia University, Waukesha South and Homestead, was on hand to take in the proceedings. He encouraged young Logan Hicks who displayed fine form in a modified high hurdles race that began Sunday’s competition.
“Now the real work starts,” shouted Zahn jovially to Hicks after the race.
It was a beautiful final day on this last Sunday, as the humidity was down from its oppressive highs on July 19 to far more tolerable levels but the temperatures were still warm enough to keep the sprinters, jumpers and hurdlers happy.
There was a gas-powered generator providing power to the electronic timing system so the kids were getting accurate times and a dedicated assistant coach running the system, who was both encouraging but also honest about the efforts athletes were turning in.
“I can’t get you anymore,” was the comment made to Sam Dziobkowski after his quick 200 dash was clocked in 23.08 and not in the sub 23-range his teammates were sure he had run.
Dziobkowski was one of the already graduated seniors who had come back to train with their teammates for a few more days before they head off to school and seek their futures. He is headed to Utah State after dealing with and moving on from the disappointment of no senior season
“This felt nice,” he said of the contact days. “This is even a new uniform that I’m wearing. We never got to wear them (in an actual meet) so having them here really helped.”
Dziobkowski was one of an amazing total of 16 athletes with state meet experience who were set to return this spring for the Warhawks. He had run on all three sprint relays at state in 2019, earning a sixth place medal with the 4 x 400.
“Yeah, you could say we were looking forward to this spring,” said Herriot with a shake of his head at the potential the 2020 team had. A 4 x 200 race with three teams was held on Sunday and despite a few ragged hand-offs, the winning foursome still turned in a solid 1:33.6.
All late afternoon, the small crowd and the coaches gave the kids well-deserved encouragement. Eva Rasch got a very nice round of applause as she worked hard to finish the co-ed 1,600 race in warm weather.
Herriot served as coach, starter and meet manager this day, maintaining a cheerful demeanor and a helpful, encouraging attitude to all the athletes out there.
He’s also been working with the school’s carefully run conditioning program this summer and will also take a turn as a freshman football coach this fall for new Warhawk head coach Matt Harris. It’s a bit of a turnabout, as Harris was slated to become a member of Herriot’s staff this past spring too.
But it’s all a big if right now, as Herriot, and every other high school coach in Wisconsin, is crossing his or her fingers that there is a fall prep season starting in a few weeks.
As noted, with Covid cases hitting new highs all over the country including Wisconsin, it is an open debate whether prep sports will actually be held this fall in the state. The WIAA is taking a rightfully cautious approach and is even entertaining a plan put forth by a series of administrators from the southwestern part of the state that suggests that sports be postponed this fall as school districts figure out whether to have classes in person, virtually or in some kind of hybrid model.
This one-time plan would have the winter sports season begin on its normal start state in early December, then a shortened “fall” season would be held from March until May with spring running a May through July slate.
No one right now knows if or how this plan will work or if it has enough support to pass. A lot of it depends upon on if and when the Covid pandemic dissipates and how quickly any new (and hopefully effective) vaccine for it can be disseminated. A great deal of cooperation by the public (masks, social distancing, etc.) will be needed to make any plan work.
Herriot is taking a “wait and see” approach. He sees some positives to the concept like being able to run and jump in warm weather for most of the season, but can see some drawbacks too.
“We’ll lose some kids to club sports and family vacations,” he said. “We may lose some potential track ‘lifers’ that way too.”
But that is a problem to be solved another day. For now Herriot and his staff just wanted to enjoy this one final day in the sun with a few kids who love track and enjoy being part of a team. He posted a photo on Twitter taken at the end of the day with him at the center of four impressive athletes wearing fine new Arrowhead uniforms.
“This was absolutely a great opportunity that we got,” he said of the contact days. “The kids needed a chance to be on the track, be with their coaches, be with each other.
“Especially the seniors.”