Track, then? Or track, now? ... oh, for the bygone era

Apr. 28—It's not easy, being an old-timer and recalling the halcyon days during our brief pinpricks of moments in the sun "way-back-when," ... but they existed, and they're fun to reflect upon, from time-to-time. It's not important whether it was that 4-touchdown day versus (insert high school, here: ______) or the season you hit .500 as a sophomore during your groundbreaking, junior-varsity season or the night you posted double-digit aces on the volleyball court; it's only important that you know it's true.

These things are what makes you ... you. The foundational elements of the building-block process made you who you are and — more-importantly — what you became. It's not-to-say those seasons/days were all you had to offer, and there've been so-many more accomplishments, since, no? Instead, it's just a blast to think upon the days when we could see all the muscles in our bodies and only had a singularity-of-purpose (and made it count when it mattered) as athletes.

Outside that, circumstances and opportunities improve over time and the only constant in life is change; so, young-people get stronger, faster and benefit from better equipment and nutrition, while besting every, single, solitary thing "we" ever did by quite a margin.

At the risk of fuddy-duddying this whole column, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that some things were better during the era of legwarmers, cassette-decks and old-style Cameros. The thing I'm focused on, today, is the Reagan-era version of track & field (which I have some-level of experience in) and the differences between what I see today and what I saw yesterday.

It's impossible to compare the climate of Florida to North Dakota, so let's leave that outta the equation for a minute. This is more a discussion about the competitive-aspect of T&F across the country — currently — and, even in places where they/we can run 25 track-meets per-season (like Florida-Man from 1984-87) and the "qualifying" aspect of "making" it to the State Meet, in whatever location ... that's what I'm referencing.

To earn a spot in the state-track-meet in 1987, one had to place in the top-four in districts, subsequently place in the top-four at regionals ... then — and ONLY then — would you taste the upper-echelon of "competition," because you BELONGED there. Think about it: You happy to participate in the baseball, basketball, football, volleyball (etc., etc.) regional schedule(s), or did you you wanna go to State?

It's the whole state, man, and you're in the top-8 ... but it took work to get there — combined with talent — and "talent" mostly drives track & field everywhere. Performance on one good day includes one AMONGST others, not one FROM others. In our "day" — gray-bearded 55-year-olds with only human-memory on our sides — T&F was a tournament; and one-bad-day dropped you into the depths of history after an event in Fort Myers without a spot at Tallahassee ... and that sucked rotten-eggs. A single stumble in the first turn of a fast-track, followed by a bang/bang finish for fourth that earned a purple, fifth-place ribbon (cannot recall where it is in a box, somewhere) that served as the Berlin-Wall to the state meet I never experienced.

Track is an individual sport — admittedly — and it's become more-individualized through the intervening three decades. Running 20-25 meets per year, we ran a home-and-away series against district competition (10 meets) and participated in other invitationals and relays along the way ... not "qualifying-times."

Instead, events that took a team to win.

We, at Martin County High School in Stuart, Fla., wanted to win THEM ALL. We had a scoreboard in that stinky locker-room with our record, on a poster-board written in crayon (we had no sharpies when we were trudging through 95% humidity and 95-degree days ... just-kidding, we had magic-markers) that charted how-many meets we won and how many we finished below-winning, with OUR point-totals.

We won (and lost) as a team ... and our times mattered in each, individual meet and event only-so-much as it mattered to placement that put points on the board. I'm not saying that was "better-or-worse," (although, it was better; and it's impossible for an opinion to be incorrect) but while it's awesome to earn a spot in "STATE!!!," it's yet-another thing to win each meet as a team.

Every step of the way.

From the middle of my freshman year until I graduated (except the period I flunked my way offa the team because I was "Florida-Man" before there WAS Florida-Man), I competed in five-events-per-meet ... every-meet, every-time, 20-25-times per-season because the TEAM needed me; I wanted to get better and faster, and the competition mattered, the record mattered ... and I only counted: based-upon-production for the team.

I was just doing what I was capable of doing while I trained each day to do it ... until I didn't or couldn't.

But, man ... it was better, and the dynamic made me able to post a 22.9 in the 220-YARD-dash (which is longer than 200-meters, BTW), so I know I worked hard back-then, just like I do my best and work hard, now.

Lord, do I miss that team ... and that "competion" ... every day.

Gaylon is a sportswriter who originally is from Jensen Beach, Fla. and his column generally appears on Mondays. He can be reached at

and/or 701-456-1213.