Kennedy High cross-country team: On equal footing
on October 13, 2009
It’s a good thing footraces aren’t won or lost based on looks. Judging by looks alone, Kennedy High’s cross-country team wouldn’t stand a chance.
They toed the starting line at a recent meet in baggy white T-shirts and mismatched basketball shorts. Their shoes run the gamut from worn-out Air Jordans to low-cut soccer trainers. But they’re allowed to race, because in the end, if you can out-run the next man in flip-flops, you win.
The starting gun goes off, and the harriers from Piedmont, St. Joseph’s and Kennedy take off, across a grassy field overlooking the Bay at Crab Cove in Alameda.
Angel Mendieta, a senior and Kennedy’s fastest man, makes his move early to the front of the pack, despite the fact that his teammates won’t be able to surround him and help keep a strong pace. It’s an unwise move, and it assures he’ll be the hardest-working runner for three miles.
“We don’t look like the other teams,” Kennedy’s coach, Ben Schneider, says after the runners vanish out of sight. “But maybe if we get to compete against them, they can feel good about that.”
Mendieta, 17, has a quiet confidence about him. He says little, but seems content with the words he chooses. He moved to Richmond with his family two years ago from a ranch in Guanajuato, Mexico, and has learned English quickly. He does well in school, Schneider says, and joined the team to “stay out of trouble.” Both Mendieta and his coach are vague about what that means, but both imply that in Richmond, finding trouble is a passive act. To be more precise, trouble tends to find you.
Schneider talks a lot about protecting his runners from the streets. He takes the entire team to and from meets in his white mini-van. He even holds practices at different parks, away from Kennedy’s campus on Cutting Boulevard and 45th Street, just to get the runners away from inner-city Richmond.
The lead runners cross the 1-mile mark, and Mendieta is still hanging tough, keeping pace. He begins to slip by the 2-mile mark, but uses a strong kick to finish a respectable ninth, out of about 30 runners. He hasn’t won the race, but he’s faster than most guys out there, fancy shoes or no.
“That makes me feel strong,” he says of running against the schools from wealthier neighborhoods. “If we can make it, then they’re going to know who we are.”
The team circles up and agrees they could have run better. Then they pile back into the mini-van and head back to Richmond, ready for next week’s chance to show they belong.
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