Fast Times at Woodstock High School, Part 8
The races at the Southern Vermont High School District Championships had long been finished. The awards had been doled out
to bouncing, smiling girls and frowning boys with their baseball
caps on backwards, trying to appear tough. Parents buzzed about
the periphery of the ceremonies, snapping all the requisite photos of their children, while tight clusters of teammates relived the
events of the day.
I was still in my ski boots at this point and fearful that the base
lodge would be locked up by the time I went back to retrieve my
bag. But all my gear was still there amidst a few discarded start
orders and an untouched granola bar, which promptly went into my
parka pocket. Finding my car among the four scattered about the
massive parking lot was not a problem, and I loaded my gear and
contentedly turned north for home.
Rattling over the frost-heaved back roads, I reflected on my eight
years of coaching the ski team at Woodstock High School. Every so
often, I assess my inner-enthuso-meter and ask myself a few questions. Why, after such a brutally long day, am I at peace with my
oversized cookie and coffee while driving back home in the dark?
What is it that keeps me coming back?
Over the course of my tenure, I’d like to think I’ve seen it all, but of
course, teenagers have a way of finding new and original ways to
leave you scratching your head. I’ve had racers jumping off chairlifts, which I think was the same year we had trouble fielding a team
for the district championships, because most of the athletes were
facing some form of disciplinary action.
And then there was the “space cadet” era, when racers left bags
and skis in different parking lots all over the state. This group would
invariably bring GS skis to slalom training, and make it a matter
of pride to never check their email. The following stage, the “
frenzied” period, was characterized by athletes who were involved in so
many extracurricular activities they didn’t know whether they were
LISTEN TO YOUR INNER-ENTHUSO-METER BY BILL MCCOLLOM
supposed to be practicing for band, theater, debating or ski racing.
I’ve no complaints with the teams of the past. I’ve enjoyed them all,
but over the past two years, this team has been…different.
Sometimes it takes unusual circumstances for a team to define
itself. In this case, we were training slalom in early January during
one of the frequent meltdown phases of the “winter” of 2012. It was
warm and spitting a few raindrops when we started, but the snow
was good, and I was absorbed in whatever our focus for the day
might have been. The racers were doing laps on the course as the
rain became steadier. Soon
it was pouring, but no one
complained, no one sug-
gested we should pull the
course and head for cover.
They’d just wipe their gog-
gles at the start and fire off
But more telling (and totally counter to most teen
stereotypes) is that they
are unfailingly nice. I hope
I’m not giving them a bad
reputation at school when
I mention this, but they actually thank the bus driver
after each trip. And without prompting, someone always doubles
back to pick up the garbage on the floor of the bus. I mean, how
many racers say “thanks” to the lift attendants when loading the
chair? I’m still blown away when most of the racers say “thanks” to
our assistant coach and me after each training session.
Just to see if there wasn’t a recent universal shift to niceness
among teens while I wasn’t looking, I mentioned this to one of the
other coaches. She promptly scoffed and said: “Are you kidding!?
Don’t the kids give you any attitude at all?”
Sure, I’ve seen plenty of boneheaded moves from this group that
rival any of those doozies from the past, but I wouldn’t call it “at-
titude.” At our recent District Championships one racer had forgot-
ten her helmet, another her shin guards. One racer occasionally
neglects to pack his warm-ups, so trains in a baggy set of spotted
pajama bottoms. There are also those who seem to have skipped
over the digital phase of email and gone directly to texting, mak-
ing communication impossible. And of course, on the hill, like all
teens, they are intent on trying to disprove the definition of insanity:
i.e., they keep doing the same thing and expecting a different re-
sult. Oh yes, the early turners keep turning early, and the grinders
keep grinding. Sometimes, progress seems to come only when I
assume my extreme, mean-corporal persona. It’s not my favorite
role to play, but I must admit, it does get their attention.
I’d like to think this positive energy is a result of my coaching, but
I know better. Good parenting, experience in other sports, and
strong leadership from the older racers are the more likely influences. When the attitude of the majority is upbeat and enthusiastic,
negativism is quickly nipped in the bud. Also key to the equation
is that they seem to be enjoying the sport. As is always the case,
we have some hotshots who have come up through the local junior programs, as well as those who still think of a flush as a good
hand in cards, but all are equally committed and supportive of one
I’m a realist, however, and quite aware that this situation could
change as abruptly as Vermont weather. But on that drive home
from the District Championships, while happily munching my cookie and dribbling coffee onto my chest, I thought that sometimes, it’s
best not to overanalyze a situation and just to let the inner-enthuso-meter speak for itself.