Sonoma County high school track athletes face graduation conflict
As life events go, it’s hard to get much bigger than walking across the stage at high school graduation. Unless you’re an athlete, in which case competing at the state track meet might be just as significant. But what if you had to choose between the two?
Unfortunately, several local seniors will have to do just that in early June. The CIF State Track and Field Championships fall on June 5-6 this year, conflicting with most Sonoma County graduation ceremonies, including all of the Santa Rosa City Schools campuses as well as Rancho Cotate, Casa Grande, Petaluma, Sonoma Valley and Healdsburg high schools.
Accept your diploma in front of proud family members, or prove yourself against the best high school athletes in the state? Major educational milestone, or prep-sports pinnacle? Needless to say, few kids would feel good about leaving one of those boxes unchecked.
“It’s an incredible inconvenience, because you’re missing something that can only come once in everyone’s life,” Maria Carrillo hurdler Alex Netherda said of graduation, an event he has decided to skip should he qualify for state, a strong likelihood. “It’s a pretty big deal for most kids, because it’s your day of becoming, essentially, your own adult. And you get to share it with people you’ve spent four years with - or like with me and some of my friends, 12 years of life. It’s tough not to go through with it.”
Parents can weigh in with advice. But the decision is so difficult that even members of the same family might reach different conclusions.
When Adam Lundquist, another top hurdler, was a senior at Casa Grande three years ago, the conflict was not with the CIF meet in Clovis, but - as is often the case - with the North Coast Section Meet of Champions, the state qualifier in Berkeley. He chose to skip graduation and run in preliminary heats that Friday.
Two years later, Adam’s younger brother, Caleb, qualified for the state championship in the discus as a Casa senior. He chose to attend graduation instead of the CIF meet.
“I looked at what I had accomplished through my high school career, and I seemed to have put greater effort and achieved more as a student than as an athlete,” Caleb Lundquist said. “I wanted to celebrate that. On top of that, I knew I’d be going to college to compete in track. It wasn’t like it would be the last meet I’d ever compete in, whereas it would be my only high school graduation.”
For the older brother, the distinction of running in the state championships had been too strong to ignore.
“Having sat through other ceremonies, I thought, would I rather be sitting in the sun for three hours waiting for my name to be called, or at a track meet doing what I love?” explained Adam Lundquist, who now competes, along with Caleb, for North Central College in Illinois. “As I like to say, it was the novelty. No, I didn’t walk at graduation, but if you think of how many kids every year graduate high school, it’s thousands. And how many get to compete for a state title? Not many.”
Because the Meet of Champions was only 40 miles away, Lundquist hoped he could double-dip. He ran the 4x100-meter relay, the 110 hurdles and the 300 hurdles at UC Berkeley, and his coach strongly urged him to run a leg of the 4x400, the final event of the day, too. But Lundquist decided to save his strength for the races in Clovis. He then hopped in a car with his parents, an older sister and his grandmother at about 4:30 p.m. and raced back to Petaluma - if “raced” could possibly describe Bay Area traffic on a Friday afternoon.
Lundquist had thrown a gown over his track uniform, and he jogged into the Casa Grande football stadium as soon as he arrived. But the stadium was empty and silent by then. He reached inside a box that had been left behind, grabbed a decorative diploma holder and slowly walked back to the car, his own understated graduation ceremony.
Adam Lundquist’s experience is common among local high school seniors in years when it’s the Meet of Champions, and not the CIF meet, that begins on the last day of the school year. Most of them have a good chance of getting back for graduation ceremonies - especially if the school lends a hand.
“We’ve always attempted to position them in the ceremony so they can at least get here, and we can welcome them as they cross the stage,” Maria Carrillo Principal Rand Van Dyke said. “We have a space out in front for them, so they don’t have to worry about parking, and we can get ’em in their chair.”
Carrillo’s pomp and circumstance is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., allowing for some wiggle room.