Glorious Victories Tragic Defeats Hoof Prints Novel By Esteban Erik Stipnieks All Rights Reserved

 

 

The Saturday of the last week of October dawned bitterly cold a slicing 20 mph wind was coming out of the almost due north. The sky was cloudless. The temperature which had been in the forties 11pm Friday was no in the 20s. 9 o’clock at Northlakes Park was bitterly cold.

The teams from Haltam City, Keller, Allan, Mc Kinney, Lewisville Marcus and Denton were gathered at Northlakes park for the regional meet. Of all the meets this was the coldest. Everybody was wandering around Northlakes park with warm ups on. Groups huddled on the Southside of a couple bodark trees hoping to get some shelter from knifing wind from the north that lacked mercy. Others held tight to the shadow of the northern dam while taking them out of the sunlight kept the wind at bay.

Due to assorted rules shorts and the jersey were the uniform. You could however wear tights. As Coach Bob had quipped the problem with Tights were that they were tight. The solution to the problem was remain bundled for as long as you could before the race and get bundled up as quickly as you could after the race. Even if you were running the race at full sprint the north wind scattered your own body heat.

Ace had missed varsity by five seconds….had he been smarter a little less aggressive on the start he would have made varsity instead of the junior that finished ahead of him as they ran the course for time on Monday. Ace though had run the required number of races of to qualify for a varsity letter jacket whose meaning was very different in Denton. The only advantage of running JV was a 2 degree increase in race temp by the start of the race.

Ace had additional duties those additional race day duties put the hands real close to frost bite since the only way to handle the Minolta X-370 was without gloves. By the end of photographing the boys and girls varsity race Ace’s hands were beyond pink into red. He knew better than to give the customary high five since his fingers were icicles than warm human touch. The boy scout trick of shoving the hands into the arm pits brought pain as blood flow was rapidly restored. It was hard however to be miserable in those conditions yeah Marcus one but Coach Noel Scott had a sly grin as Varsity boys results were tallied. The victory was made all the sweeter Allan having made the airline ticket purchase in advance of district. Going to the start line of the boys JV race it was hard not to laugh.

What followed though was a true endurance race for Ace. Ace liked big traffic meets…district was not big traffic and most of the race was spent with the wind slicing through. The speeds were slower because the muscles of the leg began cold soaked slowly developing suppleness where they could fire at full juice without tearing the tissue. The only good thing about the relative light traffic was Ace found himself in position where he could run the race line he desired the last half to the first mile mark of the face before the straight away began to the back side of the lake. A friend from church was soon by his side and a runner from Marcus was bore sighted a casual glance between the Farmer and Bronco the pass was made in tandem the Marcus runner being out of options. Then the two raced each other behind the lake. In a twist of fate another Marcus runner was sighted. In the biting cold the two began their attack paths the rate of closure was miserably slow finally the last 5 yards of relative distance was gained the last mile on dam top. The Marcus the course was not to wide on the top of the dam and slicing wind was felt full force however the Marcus runner could block out Lewisville or Denton or try to out kick both. He tried to out kick both. This mistake turned the final half mile into a three way drag race which he lost the runner from Denton came in first by the hair of his chinny chin chin and the runner from Lewisville second. The battle had been intense.

Ace knew there three other Broncos behind him and he snapped the three most painful pictures of his photographic career. Denton boys finished second in the JV race only to Marcus. The total points blow out Marcus had wanted was not quite. With the Varsity girls finishing third with only three bullets at the front and four slow the JV girls finished fourth the varsity boys 2nd regionals were to happen in Lubbock and Ace had another week of workouts ahead.

Coach Noel Scott had read of pool workouts. The advantage of a pool workout would be non jarring cardio the right combination of treading water would give the ticker a good workout without stressing the knees it would also be a break. The routine TWU pool would be the location. Realizing also what was going on and that the crazy Unicorn and him were actually on the same page decided that a pool workout would also build mutual respect between cross-country and swim team. The TWU pool would the location of the workout the cross-country team would have one lane.

Coach Noel Scott watched it was a workout of treading water on various conditions. The whole boys team jumped it was stop watch whistle. It was then he realize there would be two guys who really would have a hard time. Fat floated and when body comps drifted below 5% the body of the person with less than 5% body fat had with full lungs neutral buoyancy with empty lungs negative buoyancy . Then that game began of when to bust someone for a push off the bottom of the pool a toe shoved from a foot in the vertical was hard to catch a hand stroke horizontal on the water was a little too brazen. The goal was to provide enough stimulation for the hear and the lungs walking the line between allowing some of the hard earned strength and endurance to fade but not tearing down the muscles as Saturday morning they would be used for the last time more than likely in the season. He caught Shawn and Ace sneaking a couple hands they were most likely because they were extraordinary lean and both almost put parents out of house and home with their caloric requirements.

The Monday of the week between district and regionals was another time to enjoy. If Bronco football won that Friday they would be insured a play off game. A cross-country team bound for regionals was a bit of a surprise. The week though for Ace would be a mere four days. Friday morning would mean an unexpected plane trip. Tuesday morning over his now habitual newspaper read he found a slip of paper….regional cross-country meet photos Lubbock. The newspaper editor quipped “You are going there anyway”

Friday morning came before Dawn. Tie, dress shirt, slacks, dress shoes athletic bag and overnight bag. His mother was making the drive. In the south east the light of sun was beginning to peak over the horizon line of Lake Lewisville as the field house was opened up…race shoes were needed and even more important music. The bus driver was surprised at the call he had to cross-country team to Dallas Love Field.

Ace realized how odd it was for him. Annie, Tara , Amanda along with Ellen had presented each the boys varsity and the alternate a purple and gold coffee cup with cookies and gummi bears. There were balloons. The girls dominated Unicorn land here the boys were. The sun peaked out. There were balloons. Before the buses arrived for school the Denton ISD bus was southbound on Mayhill heading I-35E destination Dallas Love Field Coach Noel Scott decreed only one helium balloon a piece for squeaky voices.

The school bus joined the early phase of morning commute traffic. The sunrise Ace noticed was actually spectacular over lake Lewisville. The trip to Dallas was common as everybody had made it before the fact they were going to Dallas Love Field made it different.

Fall of 1992 Dallas Love Field had what could be called functional relics in it. The sign just outside the airport was modern design circa 1961. The Entrance area to the ticket counters for check in was a concrete tunnel with the original modern style architecture. The area where the Southwest Ticket counters had on the floor a great circle projection map of the world centered on Dallas Love field. For Ace this was all extremely neat. Dallas had become a machine but this modern architecture that had not been torn up removed or destroyed was a living time capsule to be savored and experienced. Shawn, Adam, Buga , Allan, Droopy and Guirrellmo were less impressed. Even if for Buga and Guirrelllmo this was their first plane ride. Marcus had staked out while their coach checked in another set of seats both teams made the first boarding call for Southwest Airlines.

In the gate lounge Droopy was far less overt in showing his love of aviation than Ace was. Droopy would later in life go on to fly C-130s Air National Guard after being selected for the Air Force academy and finishing top of the class. Droopy’s father was 747SP pilot for American Airlines who had flown F-4s during the Vietnam war under the famous Robin Olds. Droopy was far less flamboyant but when push came to shove more ruthless aggressive opportunistic. His fathers advice was that Hercs were real down and dirty flying but allowed for smoother transition and great possibility for a hire at the airlines. Real Aviators could fly Hercs but they also set up for a life time of fun…the Pitts Droopy’s daddy owned at Hidden Valley near the nice home.

Denton beat Marcus to the ticket counter and the team selected seats Ace selected rear facing lounge seat for the 90 minute flight to Lubbock. The skies were still clear and the forecast was cold. Both teams were recognized as the 737-300 taxied out for takeoff and their was applause on the airplane in addition 28 slightly pink faced runners. Marcus girls were going too after all. Shawn sitting across from Ace quipped “All you got to regionals was a bus ride this is much cooler” Ace had to agree totally. A Southwest Airliner was a far more cool way to get to regionals than a big yellow school bus.

The flight for Ace would retain a magical quality….all flights ever took in his life were somewhat memorable. Southwest continued its antics upon landing through the intercom “Whoah big boy whoah” was herd. Droopy explained to the natives of Mexico that was the Shtick of Southwest.

The team gathered for a meal moving into some temporary dorm rooms at Texas Tech than their own evaluation of the course and naturally Ace had to get some shots. The regional cross-country course was set at a park in draw. The course had what Ace loved real terrain real turns a bit narrow side. As the team jogged the course Ace along just in case it occurred to Ace how much fun it would be compete and what a complete mess up if he did compete. The team posed for some high angle glam shots that in the end would look good in the school newspaper.

Evening was pasta and a movie in Coach Noel Scott’s room where a Bible was visible to all on the bed stand. Ace had been rooming with Droopy . Droopy noted that Ace actually read the bible after the movie. Coach Noel Scott had the team watch the movie Breaking Away. It was a film Noel Scott remembered as a teen. It was good motivational movie for what would be to follow everybody turned early that night even with bible readings the team got an average of 9 hours of sleep.

The rented van drove the team to the park where they had been a day previous. Everybody got regional meet shirts. The regional meet shirts were the preverbal been their done that souvenir each would take along with their memory of the magical weekend and Friday they instead of going to school road a southwest airliner to a regional meet.

Buga and Guirrremo narrowly missed making it to state. Denton finished a respectable fourth place. There were other high schools with more talented runners. The act of simply making it to regionals though was stunning achievement considering the team as Ace quipped ran like the engine of a Honda CRX notoriously reliable but hardly the snarling powerful organizations that Unicorn were. Ace though could not help but smile as they had the final meal of the season at the County line near the airport for the journey home to Denton on a Southwest Airlines 737-500 and a big ol Yellow school bus.

Within a week the photos were developed and another assignment was placed into Ace’s bin for yearbook. That assignment was to take pictures of the Broncos at Texas Stadium play off game.

Texas Stadium made four freezing de hiney off games worth it. An elevator to the tunnel the sidelines for the action and Bronco victory. A press pass for Texas Stadium that hung around Ace’s neck. The blur of scenes many were good three made it to the school newspaper were stunning. Texas Stadium field temp was in the fifties while the outside air temperature was freezing. Aces mother being assistant superintendent got to watch from the stands she had to represent the best wishes of Central office. To top it off Brett Stroud had made a key play. This key play allowed for a Bronco victory.

Monday morning was work in yearbook but it was fun work. The mechanics of three rolls of film were now well practiced. Ace was one of the few photographers that actually preferred metal reels. By the time bell rang three long strips of negatives were hanging in the print lab. Better yet Ace could tell Tara her father would like the result even if the printing would be awkward. The negatives were a little less underexposed than usual because Texas Stadium had a little more light…yet they were still push processed Tri-X black and film done in D-76 developer. The most important was each roll had several action shots were noting.

Tuesday morning Ace snuck the three contact sheets briefly for Tara to look at them. She told other football players. The result was the joke of last year had some solid jock friends his junior year. This coupled with the remembering of the old lessons elementary school principals had taught the kids Denton Ryan was becoming an increasingly fun place to be even if it lacked the Arthurian romance and the perks o New Braunfels high school.

The fall sports banquet for Ace was another learning experience. The fall sports banquet was worlds removed from what Ace had known in New Braunfels. Colters was a chain Barbque place that dominated the DFW metro area. The fall sports Banquet was catered by Colters. The meal instead of being removed from campus was actually held in Denton Ryan Commons area. New Braunfels high fall sports banquet was had been held at the New Braunfels civic center and done up to the nines.

The Denton Ryan Commons area was in the Center of Denton Ryan campus it had like the UNT Lyceum a large volume of empty vertical space. The usual octagonal tables where the students ate remained. The Cheerleaders, football players, swimming/diving teams all selected their own table. The head table had been near the top of the commons wall which bordered the Gym complex. The skylights added a nice touch the stairwell that dominated the backside of the Commons had its red brick. The schools trophy case out did. It was a nice mall esque area to eat a meal. Yet to Ace it did speak cheap. Tara had naturally opted to sit with the cheerleaders. Cross-country was still a secondary sport for all.

What shocked Ace was the lack of time allotted the banquet the serve yourself serving lines on other aide and the reduced number of awards given athletes. Ace though had learned to keep his mouth shut and keep his eyes and ears open he was going to learn what was going on.

Coach Noel Scott gave his speech introducing the team. There were elements of the black humor that the Unicorns ran on. Coach Noel Scott started “We as you know have rivals Marcus which remind us of a Certain Warner Brothers cartoon” the whole audience laughed. He continued “We also had Allen.” The punch line developed “Many of you guys who are the younger brothers of attractive young women know what its like when some guy dates your older sister that you do not like…so is my relationship with the Allen Coach.“ Than he continued “Allen had beaten us every single race this season but one…they had purchased tickets for the boys varsity team on Southwest airlines to go to Lubbock. They had no use for those tickets we happily bought them off the team” He mentioned all the team members and than quipped about the new T-shirts “Running Wild” was the style of Ace. Droopy won best male runner Annie won best girl runner. Around the table of the cross-country team Ace could feel a different style than he had been trained as freshman was acceptable. The thing was everything though low key Denton seemed to work. The awards fewer speeches shorter the bonds though ironically were tighter. Ace did miss the pomp and circumstance. The flip side of the absence of pomp and circumstance made the real achievements far more fun and far less personal rivalry gong on life at Denton was far more fun to be a part of. In New Braunfels the cross-country team was the group of rebels. Denton Ryan campus from nose tackle to future PhD varsity girl were all in their own ways collectively a group of rebels.

The end of fall sports was a calm that hit Denton Ryan high. Ace enjoyed American literature in Expo English. Kara and the other students had warmed to his corn pone antics. The corn pone antics though had a serious tone and beneath it all it became clear Ace had a keen mind that was learning about life in the metro area. Two days before Christmas vacation it was hard to deny Denton Ryan campus was actually a pleasant place to be….than

The last class before Christmas vacation in the math hall a racial argument developed in Geometry class. In that geometry class the tension was high as the argument continued the bell rang. What no one knew was the white student who lived in the trailer park behind the school had a pocket knife. The two students went out in the hallway. The white student took the first two swings missed both his tail was about to whupped when he realized this he pulled the knife and stabbed the black student twice.

The black student once stabbed knew only thing he had to go the nurses office for first aid he needed help. As he went for help three quarters of the width of first floor east main hall was covered with blood half the students at Ryan high school could not help but see the blood trail the blood trail went past the counseling office to near the main office in the front main entrance of the school. Ace had left yearbook he had seen most of the blood.

Shortly before Christmas vacation one of the nerds of the school had asked a phillie out. Naturally she said no. The boy was very much like Rodd. While hostility to nerds was substantially less in Denton the larger size of the high school meant despite efforts of many Denton Bible oddly enough spearheaded surprisingly by Ace who despite his semi jock yearbook freak status was like the senior who mentored him warm with a bit hick old school attitude but had been quoted as saying “Everybody is worth a hi” the scripture that under girded this action was Genesis man was made in God’s image. The size though of campus meant there were gaps. Two days before Christmas a shot rang out. Denton class of 1994 had lost its first member suicide.

Ace after visiting New Braunfels had figured out that the New Motto of New Braunfels better living through chemistry. The tragedy was the student killed Ace had lost touch of. Ace after the incident became if anything more warm but was far more angry at holy huddles which Ace cold not help but notice…what if filled his mind.

 

 

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