William Rawls of Spingarn High School spent the summer racing against Metro buses. He usually won.
"I try to beat them to the bus stop," he said. "I ran from Northeast to Northwest. I started from Michigan Ave., near Children's Hospital, and ran to 9th and Rhode Island NW. I did it in 10 minutes, while running on the sidewalk. I didn't run in shorts. I ran in jeans."
He thinks Spingarn's cross country opponents, though clad in shorts, will be easier to beat than Metro buses. "I want to be all-Interhigh," he said.
Rawls' determination isn't unusual this season at Spingarn. The school's coaches and runners say they are determined to recover from last season, a season that embarrassed them, and left them fretting all summer.
"That was the worst team I had that had talent," said Coach Hubert Gates, the dean of Interhigh League cross country and track coaches. He blamed distractions.
"We had runners hanging out with the boys and girls, partying all the time," he said. "One of the guys starting hanging out in the streets."
Gates said that his top runner last year, now graduated, found other activites more important than cross country and "went down the drain" during the season.
Gates said that another key runner developed imaginary aches and pains that diminished his performance.
Bruce Williams, Spingarn's assistant coach, feels that last year's seniors didn't fulfill their potential and set a bad example for underclassmen.
"We weren't conditioning right, and there was no team leadership," said Louis Layne, one of this year's captains. "Most of our meets, there was no strategy, we just ran. We didn't practice the way we were supposed to practice."
Timothy Chapman is the other captain and is expected to provide leadership. He was "dreadful" last season, he admitted.
"I will try to put forth the effort to make sure that everybody comes to practice," he said. "We have to provide some discipline . . ." Students who don't practice regularly will lose their positions, he said.
"We kind of slacked off (last year) and basically got out of shape. Most of it was a strain on me when it came to the races and I didn't do well."
Most runners spent more conventional summers than Rawls. Many worked out at area parks and recreation centers. Layne spent a lot of time running around the Washington Monument.
"I worked at Rock Creek Park and at my lunch time I ran four miles," Chapman said.
Patrick Chatman, who didn't run competitively until coming to Spingarn, worked to build up his arms. Andre Price worked with weights to strengthen his legs. Most jogged at night to avoid the heat.
Gates has three of the top junior high runners from last year on his team. Dennis Bell, whose victories at H.D. Woodson Junior High included the East/West championship meet, is a welcome addition. Eric Roane finished second in the junior high championships for Browne Junior High, Spingarn's next-door neighbor. Carlos Gills finished third in the championships while running for Taft Junior High.
"We got a lot of good young boys," Gates said. "If all those guys work hard they should be tough."
Gates hopes junior Reginia Hill can lead the girls squad this year. Hill, the team captain, is the only returnee from last year's squad, but uses cross country to prepare for indoor track.
"My coach thinks I should finish in second or third place," she said, "but not me; my heart (for cross country) isn't that strong. I could if I wanted to."
"She has a good shot at it, if she works hard," said Gates about Hill's chances of beating such top runners as Coolidge's Janine Cumberlander, the Interhigh preseason favorite, and Dunbar's Endora Adams, last year's number one runner.
Gates hopes that Shelia Pender, who has decided not to run cross country this year, changes her mind.
"If she runs and finishes, Spingarn will be in the top three," Williams said.
"She's a fighter and she won't quit," Gates said. "We are going to give somebody a run for their money. Don't be surprised if Spingarn isn't receiving the championship trophy."