Submitted by Rick Collins
On Saturday, June 9th, the Simsbury Boys Track and Field team’s 4x800 relay squad traveled to the New England Track and Field Championships with very high hopes. They had the number one seed time going into this prestigious meet. They had set numerous school and meet records during the indoor and outdoor season, including setting the state open 4x800 relay mark the previous week.
As the race began, Joel Kirk, Simsbury’s fine lead-off leg in the relay, was shoved off the track, jostled, elbowed, and even almost knocked to the ground. An argument can be made that the race should have been called back to allow all the runners a fair chance to begin the race, but that didn’t happen, and Joel was left to navigate back into the race from last place, with the leaders, some of the best middle-distance racers in New England, having gained almost 100 meters on Joel. In this scenario, it could have been easy for Joel to feel sorry for himself. However, such is not the character of this fine young man. He fought tenaciously to maintain his stride, even battling back to pass two runners over the last lap. He simply would not give up. He was able to keep his team in the race.
Kyle Huebner, the lone junior on the squad, took the baton and exploded around the first turn. By this point, the Simsbury crew was at least 150 meters behind the leaders. Kyle, demonstrating incredible speed but also the experience to know that he didn’t have to make up the entire gap in the first lap, began to methodically pick off one runner after another. When he passed the baton to Jeff Wilkes, Simsbury still was well behind the leading teams, but all of a sudden, Simsbury was at least back in the race for the title.
Enter Jeff Wilkes. He has outstanding 400 meter speed and determination befitting his recent appointment to the United States Military Academy. He began to make strides on the two leading teams, still 75 meters ahead. By the start of his second lap, the crowd was abuzz with the knowledge that somehow, the top seed in the race was in fact gaining on the leaders. It was no fluke that Simsbury had the outstanding season they accomplished. Joel, Kyle, and Jeff, facing impossible odds, gave the baton to Kevin Stanko in contention.
Still at least 50 meters behind the leaders, Kevin, arguably the best middle-distance runner in Simsbury Track and Field history, put on a tremendous push to catch the leaders. This was a total risk or perish effort. Kevin probably knew that expending everything he had in lap one might get him back to the lead pack, but he probably also knew that he would be risking running out of gas as well. The two lead runners were able to hold off Kevin’s furious charge, but Simsbury had finished 3rd. Remarkable when one considers just what a challenge this had been.
I’ve heard this recently and too often from coaches, parents, and athletes in the valley. “Second place is the first loser.” I dismiss this notion. I prefer “It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.” Do we remember that old saying? For one eight-minute span this past weekend, the Simsbury Boys’ 4x800 relay team raced like champions. To me, they were heroic.
Girls' Track and Field Coach
Simsbury High School