Sorry, Coach Thibodeau, I dropped the ball - or in this case, the running spikes. In sports slang, I 'pooched the pigskin' (missed a kick). My putt was afraid of the dark (won't go in the hole). I air-mailed the dance floor (went over the green). My Sunday cross-country photo identified Zachary Bursell as Sage Thibodeau. That was my mistake: Wrong cutline on the wrong photo.
I am not new to sports or photography, but I am new to Juneau and the many athletes who compete here. Whereas in the little hovel I came from (Petersburg), faces were as easily identifiable as the broad numbers on a basketball/football/volleyball jersey (which hopefully matches those in the program), and I knew everyone by name.
I was closely following the Region V Cross Country Championships Saturday, wondering how the little side stories would play out onto the finish line as teams and individuals pushed to qualify for the final run at state this next weekend. I knew that Leah Francis was the gas that ran the Juneau-Douglas girls team, but I also knew that there are nine or ten gears in the Crimson Bears engine that make sure the team runs smoothly, gets that extra mileage, places high and wins championships. So, I wasn't overly concerned she was recuperating at home.
Annika Ord did what she always does, running powerfully from start to finish, and took the title. Sidney Browning, Melissa Skan, Lillian Burger-Pothier, Alice Ottoson-McKeen and Aubrey Briscoe took every other position but second. Thunder Mountain's Ryhan Holmes and Ashlynn Kay gave their all in the rain and muck.
The big story was Thibodeau's season battle with Ketchikan's Isaac Updike. As the 4A boys race started, I watched teammates Bursell and Robin Woodby lead him into the trails. In the first loop, Bursell played rabbit and chased Updike while Thibodeau coasted a few paces back just ahead of the Kings' other force, Lucas Updike. On loop two, Updike looked like he had finally mastered the Treadwell Mines trails, opening an uncomfortable lead as Bursell and Thibodeau ran side-by-side at the two-mile mark. I hustled back to the finish line and heard the crowd yelling as runners started to move out of the trees. Updike came down first, his stride powerful but forced. Then Thibodeau hit the daylight, coasting more than running; flowing into one consciousness with the rain, the mud, the umbrellas and fans as the noise of athletic praise echoed from throngs of slickers, oilskins and hoodies along the roped-off home stretch.
It was almost like watching Discovery Channel's Animal Planet - you knew very soon that a kill was going to be made. Updike would be run down and pounced on. It happened just as the runners popped back into view for the home stretch. Somehow, Thibodeau had a kick that belonged more in the track season than out here on the off-road circuit, and garnished a Region V title. Bursell took third, sandwiched between the Updikes, and Andre Bunton hit a season-best time to start a fifth-through-eighth Bears conga line (Tal Norvell, David Francis, Woodby) while TMHS Falcon Andrew Gianotti just missed the top ten trip to state by seconds.
Some how in all the excitement, I "whiffed" (swung and missed) and put a wrong cutline on my photo. I'm not a "hit and giggle player" (player with no skills), but I haven't made it to the show (big leagues) yet either so I won't promise to never "muff" (mishandle) a photo again.
I'll keep trying to work like a "PTP" (prime time player) and in the process I can hopefully admire the local athletic greatness with some puck bunnies (female spectators) as I work to get there.