Spectator Sport

                Is cross country a spectator sport?


                And no.


                Well, it depends.

                I’ll try to explain.  I’m a first time Cross Country Mom. My son ran with the high school team as an eighth grader this fall. (He ran last year too, but I feel like it was a lost year; Covid precautions discouraged spectators at most sports.) I know next to nothing about this sport. Except that it involves long distance running, mostly in the woods.

                When the first meet of this year came around, my friend (whose son is also on the team) texted me and asked me if I wanted to ride with her to go watch the boys and their team run. 

                “Do people go to watch them run?” It was a genuine question.  My son had described the runs they do in practice; trails in the woods, along roads to different trails in the woods, sometimes it’s a loop. There’s no track, no bleachers.

                “I think so,” she’d replied.

                Ok! I thought. “Let’s go!”

                My son hadn’t asked me to go, but I believe even if your teen says they “don’t care if (you) go or not,” they are secretly pleased to see you on the sidelines.  But only if you don’t cheer or yell their name too loudly.  Really, just try not to call any undue attention to yourself, or to them.

                We drove to the high school a few towns over and picked a random parking lot where there seemed to be athletes congregating within our line of sight. We got out of the car and pretended we knew exactly where we were going. (We didn’t.  I ended up asking someone nearby.) But that’s ok… because Moms don’t get embarrassed asking for directions. We could give a shit about asking for directions.  In a quick risk/reward analysis of any given situation (Moms do this all the time) the payoff in asking for directions far outweighs the risk of assuming I know where I am going.  There’s no point of pride in this particular aspect of our trip.

 I think he was actually a little surprised (not in a bad way though) to see me show up.  I tried to play it cool, small wave, a chin-nod, no hugs.

                We made small talk with the coaches.  It was hard to hide my new-ness to this sport and it seemed that every question I wanted to ask would call attention to that fact…

                Where exactly do they start?

                When exactly do they start?

                Can we see them run the course?

                Where exactly do they run again?

                How long is the course?

                How long does it take them to run it?

                I don’t remember exactly how many questions I asked aloud.  I decided I would learn by just listening and observing.  And following the coaches and a few other parents around because they obviously knew what they were doing.  Because if you follow people who know what they’re doing and you pretend that you, yourself know what you’re doing, then other people will assume that you do actually know what you are doing.

                This works in other instances besides cross country meets, just in case you were wondering.  You can follow my blog for more pro- parenting tips like this.

                I’ll admit that once the meet was over and we got the chance to chat with another mom who’s also new to this sport, I felt loads better.

                “Do parents come and watch these meets?”  she’d texted earlier that day.   

                I’d also figured out that it’s good to know exactly when the run starts, because they run by age groups, and if you show up even a couple minutes late, you might just miss the whole thing.  It doesn’t take that long to run 3k or 5k. It’s not like showing up a few minutes late to a football game, you can’t really “jump in” or “catch up.”

                Since I knew now that my teen tacitly approved of my presence at his meets, I talked my husband into going to one.  There was a Twilight Invitational Meet on a Friday night at the nearby fairgrounds.

                My son had said to me, earlier, “You’re GOING?  Well, I’m going to be hanging out with my team, so…” he let the sentence hang.

                “Don’t worry, you don’t have to hang out with us,” I assured him.  “You don’t even have to talk to us.  We just want to go and support you guys.”

                My husband raised his eye brows.   “Let’s go,” I’d said to him.  “Even if he says he doesn’t care if we go or not, I’m pretty sure he appreciates that we show up to support them.” 

                I had no clue what an Invitational was- only that Youngest Son said the older kids told him it was the most fun meet of the year.  Having only been to one meet, where there were only a handful of parents as spectators, I prepared us for a low-key evening.  And then we approached the fairgrounds and saw a massive line of traffic.

                “Look up what else is going on at the fairgrounds,” my husband said.  “There must be a concert or something.  No way are all these people coming for a cross country meet.”

                He’d just finished telling me how when he was in high school no one came to watch cross country meets.  “It’s just not a spectator sport,” he said. “It’s just not a big deal.”

                We were about to find out that this was, in fact, a Very. Big. Deal.

                There was a roped off “course” that snaked its way through the Fairgrounds, through and around the buildings and barns.  The course was lit up the whole length by strings and strings of Christmas lights. So many strings of Christmas lights.  We followed the noise; somewhere in the distance there was a giant speaker blaring music. As we rounded the corner, we could see a whole field full of tents.  Each school had their own tent, and there seemed to be a hundred tents, or more.  Some schools were from over two hours away.

                We tried not to let our expressions give away our naivete, but we were in shock over how many people were here for this meet.  It was The Place To Be. Big groups of families and friends all milling around, crowds here to support their kids and teams. Food trucks, DJ, souvenir tent; you know it’s a Big Deal when there are so many food trucks.

                We couldn’t see the start of the race, but we could hear it.  And then we saw the pack of runners come from around the other side of a building… they kept coming… and coming… and coming… there were probably over 200 runners in each age group.

                The music was blasting, the sun was setting and the Christmas lights along the course had almost a magical effect. The best part of the whole evening was watching the runners’ teammates- they traveled in packs, cutting across the field, from one part to another part, just so they could cheer on their runners at multiple points in their race.  They yelled, “GO!  You can DO this! You’ve GOT THIS!”

                After Youngest Son’s race, he actually did talk to us for a bit, even letting me snap a photo of him and his friends.  He introduced us to a couple of his teammates and then said, “Ok, I gotta go- we’re gonna cheer for (teammate)…”  And we watched them run… from point to point to point… right after they’d run their own exhausting race.  Just to cheer for their teammates, in each age group.  For the remainder of the night.

                Yes, cross country is a spectator sport.  But I found I got as much out of watching my son try his best, as I did watching him and his friends cheer for each other at every turn.

                I’m so glad we got to be a part of his world that night. That’s worth way more than the price of admission. (Which, incidentally is something else to know about for an Invitational…)

One thought on “Spectator Sport

  1. Don’t you just love it!!!
    Cross country has always been my favorite season to compete in and to coach!
    So glad that Marty is running!
    Enjoy every minute!
    Mike Towle

    Liked by 1 person

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