When I caught Andy Florek & The Crusaders on tour in Mississippi last month, they were being photographed
during the awards ceremony, and some cheeky individual shouted, “Smile and say Blue Jays.” Naturally, that went
over like a lead balloon, but recalling the incident provides a good segue into a discussion of the Cross Country Championships
next week in Natchitoches. Regardless of who was and wasn’t regionally ranked at the beginning of the season, one fact
remains clear: it is always foolhardy to bet against Jesuit anytime, anywhere, in any sport, for any reason. It’s detrimental
to claim that Jesuit has a lock on the state championship this year; that type of attitude breeds hubris, complacency, and
eventual disaster. However, I personally won’t be surprised if Jesuit gives us a repeat performance of last year’s
dominance, when team leader Josh Cusimano collapsed before reaching the finish line, but the other runners‘ strong performances
earned the Blue Jays a state title anyway.
The individual 5A championship is another matter entirely, however. Most people would agree with me that this is basically
a three-man race among Brother Martin’s Andy Florek, St. Paul’s Jonathan Thomas, and, of course, the defending
champ, Jesuit’s Brett Guidry. Now, if someone else...say, some big, lumbering National Merit Scholarship Program semifinalist
known for his long strides and phenomenal endurance...should come along and defeat the three favorites, I will firmly believe
in the Curse of the Paparazzo and will solemnly swear to never again make sports predictions, out of fear of jinxing yet another
set of athletes. Until that happens, let me go forward with my thoughts concerning the individual chances of Andy, Jonathan,
and Brett for a first place finish on the 16th.
ANDY FLOREK: I think I finally have Andy “Don’t Call Me Michael” Florek figured out. Andy wins races
because he is impervious to heat. At the beginning of the season, Andy was consistently blowing away the competition, winning
the St. Joseph‘s Invitational, the Mount Carmel Cub Run, and the Episcopal Round Table Run, so I ran a photo of Florek
on the homepage of my website with the question, “Can Anyone Beat This Guy?” in bold print. Well, immediately
thereafter, Andy ran his first race in which rain, not heat, was a factor (the Catholic High Invitational) and ten (yes, TEN)
runners answered my question. I couldn’t believe it. Was this the same athlete who I had seen, time after time, crossing
the finish line with a serene expression, barely breaking a sweat, looking as though he could continue running for another
three miles, as everyone else came up, huffing and puffing on the brink of exhaustion, behind him? Then, somewhere along the
line, I finally got it. Just as baseball has hot weather and cold weather pitchers, cross country has hot weather and cold
weather runners. Therefore, unless God is a Crusaders fan and He sends a heat wave to Natchitoches next week, I don’t
think Andy will win this race.
JONATHAN THOMAS: Even casual cross country observers have taken note of Jonathan’s athletic prowess (especially after
the Rummel Invitational) and only those with severely malformed or diseased brains would discount this very real threat to
the championship in Natchitoches. When I think of Jonathan, one word comes to mind: hungry. Avoiding any corny puns about
ravenous Wolves, it’s obvious that Jonathan has been training like a fanatic (and even posting messages about it at
various forums), starved for the recognition already accorded to his metro area competitors. If this northshore kid brings
that attitude with him on the 16th, hard work and perseverance just may pay off, and I predict that such a triumph of willpower
will spark celebrations that reach far beyond Covington. I give Jonathan a 50/50 shot at winning the title.
BRETT GUIDRY: This brings us to a discussion of the guy with a target on his back, a God gifted athlete named Brett Guidry.
Even if the Blue Jays preserve their dynasty, they’ll walk away from the fight in Natchitoches with a black eye if Brett
doesn’t repeat as the individual state champion. That’s quite a burden to place on any sixteen-year-old’s
shoulders, but Brett impressed me to such a degree last season, I had to put my comments in check just to avoid shortchanging
his competitors. To tell the truth, I’m still somewhat in awe of Brett, and I realized that at this year’s District
Championships. I may have had my doubts in September, but on November 4, I understood that Brett Guidry was still Brett Guidry.
That Brett Guidry is so good he’s scary, and therefore I’m also giving him an even chance at being the 2004 5A
At this point, you’re probably saying, “Okay, Paparazzo, you’re baffled as to who is actually going to
win the championship, but who do you WANT to win?” To that query, I’ll reply that I’ll be sincerely happy
no matter who wins. Now, before you label me an equivocating sap, let me explain.
If Andy wins, I’ll be happy because, quite frankly, he deserves it. Andy has performed amazingly in race after race,
and it’s not his fault that cross country’s most important meet occurs in North Louisiana during temperate November
instead of South Louisiana in sultry September, when he’d be an almost guaranteed shoo-in for a first place finish.
Besides that, if Andy does win, he’ll be continuing his time honored tradition of making me look stupid, which will
amuse a lot of people, even me.
If Jonathan wins, we’ll have the Rocky story, cross country style, a tale of a scrappy kid from the boondocks whose
work ethic enables him to blow into town and trounce his elite, ballyhooed adversaries.
As for Brett, let me tell you a little story. At the District Championships, just yards from the finish line, Brett uncharacteristically
looked me dead in the eye. I think Brett had read my online speculation about his newly gained muscle mass possibly slowing
him down, and he was wondering if I had joined the ranks of envious Jesuit haters. Obviously, my reaction to the champ’s
stare must have indicated to him that this wasn’t the case, so Brett quickly diverted his attention and breezed to victory
in his typical aloof, regal manner. Yes, an upset win by an upstart underdog may inspire us when we face overwhelming odds
in our daily lives, but there’s also a side of us which wants to believe in, and recognize, established greatness. It’s
that instinct which causes residents of places like Oshkosh, Wisconsin to become rabid supporters of the New York Yankees.
That just about wraps it up. Barring some unforeseen calamity, I’ll be in Natchitoches to provide some mementos of
these athletes’ achievements via photography. Best of luck to all the competitors.
P.S. I've just been reviewing the photographs from the Catholic League District Championships, and I have to admit that certain
photos of Brett from earlier in the season have been misleading. Guidry's build hasn't changed nearly as much as I thought,
so all my talk about his bulking up and slowing down was asinine.