Ben and Nick, you got robbed, but we'll never forget you...
Another season of cross country
has come to an end, and once again the events of the previous day have motivated me to make comment. Actually, there were
perhaps more newsworthy occurrences at yesterday's state meet, but the most poignant moment came during the 2A race.
Ben Kilpatrick of University High and Nick Breaux of Episcopal-Baton Rouge were the clear leaders. As a matter of fact, Ben
and Nick were so far ahead of the pack, they completely befuddled an LHSAA official. Ben and Nick were both denied access
to the track toward the end of the race by an official who blocked their path, thinking they were off course and had yet to
complete another loop. By the time the matter was resolved, the pack had caught up to Ben and Nick. Ben ended up third and
Nick finished fifth, thus being unfairly denied a place in the record books after incalculable amounts of time spent in arduous
training. To make matters worse, Nick is a senior who ended his high school career on such a heartbreaking note.
Ben, you've got another chance in 2007 and some good karma headed your way, so I expect to be paying tribute to you next year.
Nick, you're a class act from head to toe; I read your forum post at the state cross country website in which you publicly
forgave the official and acknowledged his apology. At the time, I also realized it was an honest mistake, but I'm not sure
if I could be so magnanimous if robbed of a lifelong dream. Let's put this in perspective with a couple rhetorical questions
for you runners out there. First, why do I photograph you guys? Quite simply, it's because you represent everything I love
about the human race. Sprinting may be a natural talent (thank your lucky genes), but proficiency in cross country is the
result of fanatical hard work and dedication (which makes me think about this year's Brother Martin team, but I'll get to
them later). No human body was built to run three miles in fifteen minutes, and pushing yourself to those limits is evidence
of superior character. Now, why would anyone volunteer to officiate at a cross country event? I've got to believe that the
reasons have to be similar to those that make me want to memorialize your achievements in pictures. In other words, these
officials (including the man who made the mistake) are probably motivated by a deep appreciation for cross country running,
and a desire to support those who participate in it. I've heard some severe pronouncements from a representative of Northwestern
University, requesting that the LHSAA not use this official in the future. Well, maybe this unnamed official shouldn't be
put in such a sensitive position, where an error in judgment can have such catastrophic results. However, I know how I would
feel if I was suddenly prohibited from photographing cross country meets, and if this man's pangs of regret are anything similar,
he definitely has my sympathy. I can just imagine this gentleman's emotional state after inadvertently crushing the hopes
of two kids he was trying to instruct. Nick, even when you're a middle aged man attending your thirtieth high school reunion,
you'll be recalled as that great runner, the leader of the pack, who got blocked at the state championships. Everyone in the
state who cares about cross country knows this, and we will always remember it.
Let's also not
forget that there were two more victims of this bit of human error, the officially recognized 2A winner and runner-up, Steven
Jeansonne of Menard and Barry Loyacano of St. Thomas Aquinas. Every athlete, including and especially a cross country runner,
just wants the opportunity to compete honorably with no distractions, and Steven and Barry were prevented from doing that.
We'll never know what the true results of the 2A race would have been without the officiating mishap. Whenever these two gifted
athletes look back on their high school careers, the official recognition they received yesterday will forever be clouded
by controversy, and neither Steven nor Barry did anything to deserve that.
Of course, there were
other memorable happenings at yesterday's event, and they weren't tragic. Jesuit maintained the only genuine sports dynasty
in the state, winning the Class 5A title by flying under radar throughout the season, thus boggling the minds of the nay saying
multitudes who had written them off. It's just a coincidence of course, but those boys haven't lost a state championship
since I started photographing them, and that goes back to the days of Brett Guidry's amazing sophomore victory. Kenny Ehrhardt
led the Blue Jays to their fourth consecutive state win by finishing second in this race, just edging out Rummel's Alex Lorio
(who I really thought was going to be the first place finisher, based on his performance at the district meet). Philipp Goetert
of Baton Rouge High won the race, leaving me as confused as an LHSAA official. I had been so expecting to see a Rummel uniform,
I didn't even snap a photo of Philipp when he showed up near the track entrance because I thought he was about to veer right
and make another loop. My apologies go out to Philipp; I had been unaware of your potential (as were many other observers
in the New Orleans metro area), but you showed us all.
Getting back to the team competition,
although Kenny Ehrhardt will be graduating, Jesuit will still have those irrepressible Guidry twins, Cory and Chad, on their
roster next year, so don't bet against their chances in 2007, either. Forget the Saints; the Blue Jays make me proud to be
a New Orleanean.
I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that New Orleans has yet another
reason to be proud. Absolutely none of the expert prognosticators predicted that the Brother Martin Crusaders would finish
among the top five teams in the 5A race. In fact, there was serious talk of an eighth place finish for 2006. Chalk one up
for the work ethic; the Crusaders finished third, right behind the highly touted Catholic High Bears. Please understand that
Brother Martin High School has elevated cross country running to the status of a religious cult. Training is literally a year
round commitment, and I frequently see packs of Crusaders running along places like the Lake Pontchartrain levee and the meadows
surrounding City Park, even in the middle of the summer. These overachieving kids have proven to be inspirational role models
for us all. The underdogs rallied when the chips were down, and the Crusaders provided us with the most stunning upset of
the entire two-day meet.
In the 4A race, there were no upsets. Alex Breaux was Alex Breaux. After
the season Alex has had, what more can you say? At this year's Walker High Shootout, the nationally ranked elite performer
from Vandebilt ran the fastest race in twelve years of Louisiana cross country competition with a time of 14:58
(Catholic High's Robbie LeBlanc achieved a time of 14:53 way back in 1994). Yesterday, Alex breezed to a 4A victory in
all his blue uniformed glory, yet has maintained a humble, self effacing attitude during interviews, suggesting that he's
as down to earth as he is talented. It's always an honor to be in the presence of legitimate greatness. Last year, we had
Brett Guidry. This year, we have Alex Breaux.
I know I've already used the word "inspirational"
in this piece, but I have to use it again as I sum up. There is some intangible quality which I find inspirational at every
Louisiana state meet. Maybe it's because a cross country event is being staged in the bucolic setting of Natchitoches, which
is sort of like piling wholesomeness upon wholesomeness. Maybe it's because of the camaraderie among the young athletes. I
could never imagine a fight taking place up there. I can't recall ever hearing an argument, or even a harsh remark. Routinely,
the boys shout out their respect for competitors from other schools, lending words of encouragement before race time.
It's probably impossible to explain what inspires us. Some things can't be put into words. Ansel Adams, the renown photographer,
said, "When words become unclear, I shall focus on photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence."
That's a pretentious, long winded way of saying, "Just shut up and show people the pictures." Okay. I'll be posting shots
from both the Texas and Louisiana State Championships soon. See you next year.
November 15, 2006
Ben Kilpatrick (in left photo, followed by Barry Loyacano of St. Thomas Aquinas) and Nick Breaux
(right photo): They deserve more than photos and editorials.