While most of the Marquette community was occupied with the men’s basketball game versus Syracuse, there was a small subset of campus transplanted into a gymnasium on the upper east side of Milwaukee having a pretty nice little Saturday. And unlike Will Ferrell in “Old School,” no one even went to Home Depot to do it.
Competing in just its second indoor meet of the season, the Marquette track and field team split a dual meet with Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the Panthers’ indoor Klotsche Center, taking the men’s side, 70-68, and dropping the women’s, 80-57. But those numbers are just part of the story.
Track meets, and especially dual meets, are strange. Technically, all of the Marquette track athletes compete on a team, working together. But track, much more than any other sport, is about individual achievement and what you can do for yourself. But that team aspect is still there. And even more so in dual meets. These meets take strategy, and with only so many spots available, athletes are sometimes competing in events they haven’t run for years.
“I had guys and girls on the team come up to me and say, ‘I did this event in high school, I can do this if you need me for the meet,’” coach Bert Rogers said after the meet. “I think everyone gets excited getting a few extra points for the team.”
Track meets are different from any other sporting event. There are so many athletes and events that the down time is enormous. Some athletes will wait around all day for just a few moments of action. And as I wandered the inside of the track, I couldn’t help but take in the culture of a track meet. One thousand things happening, and all the waiting, but only the events are ever recorded.
“There’s a lot of things going on at once,” Rogers said. “It’s like a three-ring circus sometimes.”
Well, one ring, at least. The track encompassed the bleacher area, turning the viewing section into what reminded me of the infield of the Kentucky Derby. Except, you know, without the horses. And the public intoxication.
As the runners chugged along the track, those in attendance went along with their own activities. Not everyone was paying attention to the races, but that’s just how track meets work. But there was this palpable intimacy. Sitting in a circle on the ground was a family eating some sandwiches they brought. Other athletes were stretching on the far side, preparing for their events. A group of parents standing at the top of the bleachers holding camcorders turned on their axis like precision Swiss watches as runners went by. Athletes of both squads were sitting around, talking with each other. Someone was enjoying a nap while just a few feet away some athletes ran around and played with a group of small kids. Others still cheered on their teammates and friends.
The men’s competition went down to the final relay, and as the baton was passed to freshman anchor Kyle Winter, the crowd and the team members rose to their feet. Suddenly, everyone in the building had their eyes on the track. They stood on both sides, yelling with their arms raised, like a surreal game of London Bridge. Winter edged his UW-Milwaukee counterpart at the last second, and the Marquette supporters went crazy. Suddenly an individual achievement seemed like quite a team accomplishment. And it was.
The pandemonium died down after a minute, and everyone slowly made their way out of the gym. The friendly rivalry would continue another day. I got into my car and somehow made my way out of the parking garage without paying (sorry, UWM).
Yeah, all in all, I had a pretty nice little Saturday. And as I drove back to campus, I knew Bed, Bath and Beyond could wait for another day. Mr. Ferrell would definitely understand.