It has been more than a half-century, but I never have fully forgiven Bill Hewitt. Not completely. (Just kidding, of course.)
The scene was the state track meet in 1968. Charleston had won the first heat of the junior high mile relay. We (Booneville) had just been edged out by one second in the final heat, but it looked like we still would qualify to move on to the Meet of Champs. (Back then junior high got to go to the MOC.)
Then Bill ran up, all excited. “Hey, Green, we get to go to the Meet of Champs!” Charleston’s time had been a fraction of a second faster than ours, and only the top two times moved on. By such thin margins are born the also-rans of history.
In 1968, Booneville and Charleston both had full stables of junior high quarter-milers, and meet after meet we would butt heads in the final event of the day. Bill was a versatile athlete and stayed very busy in multiple events. He was lean and fit and could run and jump all day.
I had not talked with Bill since we graduated from high school in 1971. He said he had seen me from a distance when I was announcing at the Magazine basketball games, but we had not been able to visit.
In the intervening years, however, our sons had become acquainted while lifting weights together. Bill’s name would occasionally come up, and it finally dawned on me that this was my old friend and foe from high school days. So, I called him and we got together for a little while at Rockin’ Robin’s Café in Booneville on a miserably cold and rainy day in February.
It is remarkable how memories emerge from the misty past when old timers begin to visit about the Good Ol’ Days. Bill remembered in our junior year when Greg Luther had been inserted as a “rabbit” in the mile run at the district meet in order to help another runner, and had ended up winning the race. He remembered long jumping against Ronnie Leftwich. And believe it or not, he remembered when the Paris runners had boxed me in during the mile run at the district meet our senior year.
Bill works as an outside sales rep for Lumber One. I can see how he would have done well at it, because he is still just as friendly and out-going as he was in high school.
Track is the most social of sports, at least among the athletes themselves. In football, basketball and baseball the competitors sit on opposite sides of the field or court and generally do not mix very much. But in track, when you are not engaging in or preparing for an event, there is ample opportunity to sit in the stands and visit and have fun with the athletes from other schools.
Since I competed with the same group of runners from Charleston in junior high and high school, I was able to forge friendships with several of them. Unfortunately, I lost touch with most of them after graduation, so it was a genuine pleasure to get to renew my acquaintance with Bill Hewitt after all these years.
It is a truism that after we join the ranks of the pot-bellied, athletes from our youth seem to have jumped higher and run faster than they actually did. But you youngsters be patient with us if you hear us exaggerating a little as we re-live the past. You will be old one of these days yourselves.