Shorewood sprinter Justin Rabon came off the medal stand for the 200 meters at the WIAA State Track Meet in La Crosse last Saturday, and looked at the scoresheet for the event that included the cumulative division 2 team scores.
He asked a couple of pertinent questions such as 'Do either Catholic Memorial or Seymour have a 1,600 (meter) relay team?' and when the answer came in 'No,' his eyes got wide and he quickly excused himself to go talk to his 1,600 relay teammates.
Because a very rare opportunity now stared the Greyhounds right in the face in this last race of the meet. It was a chance to do something coach Dominic Newman talked about. It was a chance, as Newman said, 'to be legendary.'
'I only told some of them,' said Rabon after he anchored the Greyhound relay team that included Taylor Dennis, Alec Grimmer and Jacob Goldberg, to a state-record victory that clinched Shorewood's first-ever WIAA State Track championship. 'Some were still in race mode and I didn't want to freak them out just yet.'
What Rabon wanted to tell the whole world was that going into that relay, all the Greyhounds needed to do to make school history, to win the team championship, was finish in the top five. On the surface, that could have been seen as a cinch, as the Greyhounds were the defending champions in the event and were the top seed coming out of Friday's heats.
But he wanted to be extra careful, because he didn't want to jinx this opportunity.
'When he came over to me (before the race), all he was saying 'we just got to get the stick (the baton) around,'' Newman said.
But then Rabon and his teammates did much, much better than that: They won the race and broke their own state D2 record with a 3:19.62, putting an exclamation point on a team title that had only been a dream.
Rabon exalted once, then twice and then again as he hit the finish line knowing that he and his teammates had achieved that rarest of 'legendary' dreams.
'I'm just ecstatic,' he said. 'I've never felt this good before. To finish out as a team champion is the best thing that could have ever happened.'
With the title, the Greyhounds completed a rare piece of 'book-ending' as they had also won a state cross country championship in the fall. What made it better was that everyone brought up to La Crosse contributed to the victory.
'I looked it up and it's only been done like this (cross country and track) four times and the last time was 1991-92 when Verona did it,' said Newman, who is also the Greyhounds' cross country coach. 'It's just so very special. I'm a hometown La Crosse boy and I went to college here.'
Shorewood scored 44 points for its title as Catholic Memorial was second with 37, Mount Horeb third (33) and Seymour fourth (31-1/2).
Trials and travails
Not that any of this was easy. Newman, who did some math after the sectional championship effort of the week before and calculated that the Greyhounds had a very good chance of doing this, had a couple of trials and travails to deal with during the week.
First, he had to deal with a frustrating school disciplinary issue that forced him to swap in otherwise little-used junior Michael Fazio into the highly-seeded 400 relay that included Rabon, Dennis and Grimmer.
With help from veteran event coach Eric Mathews, Fazio didn't skip a beat, taking and making a hand-off cleanly, as the Greyhounds set another school record and earned eight valuable points with a runner-up effort of 43.15.
He was ready for his moment.
'It was a great experience,' Fazio said. 'I've always wanted to run at state, always imagined myself doing so. It was a lot of pressure (the way it happened), but the coaches gave us a good talk.'
Then Newman's extreme frustration level at what happened at the last practice May 29 caused him to mutter a curse at practice, something he says he really doesn't like to do.
He felt the 3,200 relay team, also slated to place high, needed some work on its handoffs and clearly they did, because in a drill, senior John Traudt collided with a teammate and crashed to the track. He completed the practice, but then reported to Newman.
''My arm hurts,' he said,' noted Newman, 'and so about 8:30 p.m. on the night before we leave for La Crosse we have to deal with this (a broken arm). It was difficult enough to deal with the disciplinary issue, but now this.'
After consulting with Traudt's doctor, it was decided that the junior would indeed run in the race.
The event had added pressure to it as it was going to be the first opportunity for Shorewood to earn points in the meet Friday.
'If we were going to win a state championship, we needed to set the tone,' relay team member Goldberg said.
Part of something legendary
Newman offered Traudt some reinforcement beforehand.
'I pulled him aside and told him he could be part of something legendary, something people continue to talk about five, 10, 20 years from now,' Newman said.
And it worked: Despite wearing a brace from wrist to beyond the elbow, Traudt turned in a personal best 800 split to help Stahl, Jack Mauer and Goldberg earn a third-place effort of 8:02.6.
Traudt could only laugh about it all, as he carefully shook hands with his good arm.
'I guess we really needed those practices,' he chuckled. 'The doctor decided it was OK and he said 'Try not to fall on it again.' Surprisingly, it wasn't that difficult (to do) because there was no way I was going to say 'no' to running this.'
Other efforts also had some drama. Charles Stahl finished third in his 3,200 on a hot and windy Friday (9:40.97). He went back and fourth with a Kenosha St. Joeseph's runner on the final stretch, finally nudging him for the higher place.
Then Goldberg was involved in a highly dramatic dash to the finish in the 800 Saturday, as he took fourth in the race with a school record of 1:54.01, just off the state D2 mark broken by the first three finishers in the race.
It was like everyone knew there was a sense of urgency about things.
'We have a lot of hopes for this year,' Stahl said after his 3,200.
That they did: Dennis also picked up three valuable points with a sixth in the triple jump (44-3 1/2) and when Rabon's third-place showing in the 200 was added in late in the day Saturday (22.46), all that remained was for the 1,600 relay to do its job.
Which they mused about on the infield afterwards, before they went out and grabbed their coveted big gold trophy and posed for endless pictures.
'This is is indescribable,' Dennis said. 'I've never been in this kind of situation before. We just pushed super hard (in that race).'
But when it came time to grab the trophy and then take a celebratory lap around the track, the Greyhounds took their time, as Rabon held it high above his head.
It was just as Newman had dreamed.
'We didn't want to set ourselves up for disappointment,' he said. 'It wasn't like cross country (where we expect good things). Through all of it, I told them we've been given this gift, given a chance to set ourselves apart.
'To do something legendary.'