The high school Jake attends is one of the newest in the area, and I’m often asked how I like it, how Jake likes it. I always say how much I like the school and its staff but, without fail, I find myself talking about Jake’s coaches, Joan and Duane Green.
In highschool distance running, it’s common for winning coaches to be running their kids 60-70 miles a week. Their runners are whip thin, sinewy and fast, and by 19 their knees are shot. The highschool wins championships and the kids walk away worse for the wear, often unable to compete in college because their bodies have already taken all the abuse a body can. That’s irresponsible, unethical coaching and no highschool win is worth that; these are bodies which are still growing, these are minors. Good highschool and college coaches are stewards of talent, not leaches bleeding a body dry for the sake of today’s win. Joan and Duane Green are stewards, smart stewards.
In the three cross-country seasons since the highschool opened its doors, Duane and Joan have taken their tiny band of runners from barely competitive to making it to state competition. Next year the varsity runners will be competing in the international class races. Incredible success on thirty miles a week and without an injury amongst them at the end of the season. This is how highschool distance running should look, this is the way all coaches should be training their kids: serving as conservators of health, not reapers of talent.
But my appreciation of Joan and Duane goes beyond their coaching. In three years my son has spent more time with the Greens than with anyone else outside of his immediate family, and as Jake gets older I think he’ll realize how lucky he has been to have this couple as mentors.
Joan is a social worker and a guidance counselor, and Duane is a school psychologist. They are good, kind people who care just as much about their runners’ grades and well-being as they do about their athletic performance, and I’m so grateful Jake has had a window into their world. He’s heard them lovingly bicker, he’s heard them apologize to parents and runners, he’s seen them both angry and teared up, and they’ve served as role models so much more than they know. This is what good people look like.
Because it was Jake’s last season with them, I had my heart set on doing something special for the Greens, and when I approached the runners and the other parents they agreed it was time for something special, too.
After all the talk of designs and symbols of speed and running and competition, the kids and I decided the most important thing to the Greens were the kids themselves, and so that’s what we gave them: a bit of the kids they love, to have with them always. The parents paid for the gold, I made the jewelry, and the kids stamped their initials on the pieces. All the runners stamped Duane’s ring, and the girls stamped Joan’s pendant.
My favorite part? The upside down initials. The kids all practiced stamping, and although there was much discussion of which way was right-side-up, in the end the kids were too busy flirting and poking each other to really pay attention. They are a bunch of goofy, happy, whole and successful teenagers, and the Greens have done their best to keep them that way.