The lineup of teams at Monday’s Joe Lane Invitational was pretty typical of track and field meets at giant suburban high schools. You had the host school, Minnetonka, which has an enrollment of 2,750 students. Also at the meet were Burnsville (2,530), Rochester Century (1,275), Minneapolis Patrick Henry (747) and one other school.
That one other school has more of its students on the track teams – per capita – than any of those larger schools. That one other school was Cromwell, enrollment 74. Yes, you read that correctly: The Cromwell Cardinals, with seventy-four students in grades nine through 12, were on the track with the big schools.
How the Cardinals came to be at Minnetonka is a story that involves the weather. With spring schedules blown up by the disastrous spring conditions, administrators and coaches are scrambling to find places to compete. The original field of teams for the Joe Lane Invitational included Burnsville, Chanhassen, Chaska, Maple Grove, Mounds View, Prior Lake and Cooper.
But when most of those teams couldn’t make it to Monday’s meet because of scheduling issues, Minnetonka boys track coach Chris Cohen sent an email to all track coaches in the state, issuing an open invitation.
Dave Foster, who coaches the girls and boys teams at Cromwell and also is the school’s athletic director, saw the email and wondered, “I don’t know if he means us. So I sent him an email saying we were a small school up in northern Minnesota, would you take us? He said absolutely, come on down.”
So the Cardinals coaches and 31 athletes jumped in a bus for the 300-mile round trip. Cromwell is 40 miles west of Duluth, and Monday’s 2-hour, 30-minute drive to Minnetonka wasn’t the track team’s longest of the season. They earlier competed at an indoor meet at Bemidji State, which is a two and a half hour drive from Cromwell. The Joe Lane Invitational was Cromwell’s first outdoor meet of the season after five events were cancelled.
Minnetonka has some of the finest facilities in Minnesota, including artificial turf football, baseball and softball fields. Cromwell has a dirt track around its football field –the Cardinals were nine-man football state champions in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2010 with four runner-up finishes in that span -- and the track teams have spent most of the spring running on streets and highways when not working out indoors.
“When we first showed up we made a joke: ‘What college is this?,’ ” said Cromwell junior Hunter Rauvola. “This is nice.”
Foster, a Duluth native, had never been to Minnetonka High School until Monday. He took a sneak peak via the internet, or as he phrased it, “I flew in this morning on Google to take a look at it. And the weather’s nice, we were going to be outside. I was just excited about coming.”
Both Cromwell squads finished fourth in Monday’s team scoring. The highest-finishing Cardinals placed third in their events: Andrea Hakamaki in the girls 1,600 and the 4x200, 4x400 and 4x800 girls relay teams, plus Josh Oliver in the shot put and the 4x800 team on the boys side.
“I knew we’d see some good competition,” Foster said.
The conditions were flawless, with a high temperature of 74 degrees under a strong, summer-like sun.
“It’s hot,” said Rauvola. “But you don’t want to complain about it being hot.”
You sure don’t. Especially knowing that Cromwell’s next meet is scheduled for Friday at Crosby-Ironton’s Ranger Invitational.
“It’s supposed to be 39 degrees,” Foster said. “I told the kids, ‘Enjoy this today.’ ”
--See a photo gallery from the Joe Lane Invitational on the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 612
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,472
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
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