Fast Times at Woodstock High
Part 4: Seniors, freshmen and bus rides BY BILL MCCOLLOM
AF TER FOUR YEARS of coaching the Woodstock High School ski team,
I shouldn’t be surprised at how different the personalities of the teams are
from year to year. Yet, every year I’m not only surprised but astounded and
flabbergasted, as well. A brief recap is in order.
Year One: I first wrote about our boys leaping off lifts, running afoul of
authority figures, and exercising remarkably poor decision-making. We
went to several races with only a fraction of the squad due to what might
be called “disciplinary issues.” By the time the State Championships came
around, however, most of the team was off probation, and the boys actually
emerged victorious. Go figure.
Year Two: This was the year I felt as if I was talking to myself for the
entire season. No one else was listening, certainly not my ski team. Emails
went unanswered; I’d show up for a training session and two of our 20 racers would appear; and then I’d arrange for an enormous bus to cart
a full team to a ski race, only to fill
three of 40 seats. But after an intense,
CIA-inspired, season-long training
regimen — involving both passive
and corporal encouragement — the
team finally discovered how to open
emails, retrieve phone messages and
check the bulletin board. The end result was another win at States for the
boys. Go figure.
Year Three: This was a talent-lad-en team of boys and girls fully capable
of delivering another championship
banner to the gymnasium. But there’s
always a “but” when it comes to high
school ski racers. This group was
enormous in numbers, enthusiastic
beyond comprehension and fully capable of opening email. The problem
was, they were too busy to read it.
Our skiers were so involved with extracurricular activities they couldn’t
remember what day of the week it
was; whether training was slalom or
GS; or even if they were supposed to
go to band, theater or a ski race on
any particular day. On the morning of
major races, the Vermont highways would be filled with our parents driving
for miles to retrieve ski and boot bags left in various parking lots, resulting in racers missing their starts or skiing the courses without inspection.
And no, we didn’t win States. Predictably enough, several racers posted outstanding results, but too many finished with letters (DNF, DSQ) rather than
times on the results sheet.
Year Four: We’re not done yet. District Championships are coming up
soon and States are a few weeks after that. But once again, the team has
forged another unique personality; of the 20 racers on the team, 10 are
freshmen. Sometimes I find myself praying for guidance.
The high school racing schedule doesn’t make a great deal of sense. We
endure five weeks of dryland training while we wait for snow, and then race
for only four weeks in January before chopping the team down to six racers
for the District and State Championships.
But dryland training does serve a purpose. It gets the team in reasonable
physical condition, gives us the opportunity to bond as a team and, in this
case, bridges the chasm between seniors and freshmen. Without the use of
a gym and with snow on the playing fields, we try to keep things entertaining throughout the dryland period. Snow-soccer, aerobic dancing, hallway
plyometrics, stair bounding and full-contact musical chairs are among our
staples. Our sessions are always on the very edge of chaos, but everyone has
fun and gets to know one another as teammates. Or so I thought.
After two months of training, four bus rides to races and multiple team
meetings, I was standing at the start
of a training course the other day,
chatting with one of our seniors.
The senior was watching a freshman
teammate fly down the course in im-
pressive fashion. He then turned to
me and said: “Wow, that guy’s pretty
good. Is he on the team?”
Yes, seniors have always been the
gods of high school and the fresh-
men the peons. There’s little I can do
to change that, I’ve discovered. The
freshmen boys spend their free time
at the start of races spearing each
other with their ski poles, spraying
snow on one another and wrestling
in the snow. The seniors watch the
melee with detached distain while
they flirt with the girls.
On the other hand, our girls’ team,
consisting of four freshmen and
one senior, has certainly bonded.
They each possess strong individual
personalities, but find additional
strength in numbers. They share se-
crets in the clubhouse, put on their
boots together, go out on the hill
together and cheer for each other
on the course. They put up with the
younger boys, but: “Puh-leeze, we are way too mature to socialize.”
So off we go to the Championship races. Bodies will be bouncing off the
windows on one side of the bus while on the other side, earplugs will be af-
fixed and racers will be chilling out. Somewhere near the back, the girls will
be huddled together laughing at something or somebody.
Despite gender and class differences, however, when we get to the races,
we’re a team. We strive for a common goal and cheer for each other until
the last racer finishes. I can’t ask for more, regardless of outcome. And who
knows; maybe later in the spring one of our seniors will acknowledge the
existence of a freshmen teammate with a nod in the school hallway.