By James Kay
On Nov. 8, Trinity honored its cross country team for qualifying for the state finals. Since head coach Johann Gonzalez took over the program four years ago, he has started a tradition of rewarding his team with a surprise gift before state (if they get there). Trinity also has a tradition of having every state-bound team run through the school with every student lined up outside of their classrooms (this is called "Running the Halls").
Here is an inside look at how the school celebrated last Friday.
Preparing the 'state surprise'
On the eve of the cross country state finals, head coach Johann Gonzalez carefully placed the customized, Trinity Under Armour quarter zips he bought for his team on foldout tables in the main gym. One corner of the shirt had the school's logo while the other boasts each runner's last name in cursive.
"I told them, 'If we go to state, I will surprise you with some sort of gift,'" said Gonzalez. "This year especially has been one of the toughest roads we've had to get to state, and I thought I would get them something they could cherish past their time in high school."
While the program has qualified for state every season since he took over as head coach, Gonzalez knows his team races in one of the toughest conferences in the state. At this point in the season, no victory should go unrecognized.
"That first year when we qualified, I thought, 'We have to treasure these moments because we don't know if it is going to happen again,'" said Gonzalez. "So we started with this whole state gift tradition, and luckily we have been able to qualify a few more times after that."
In the first year his team went to state, Gonzalez rewarded his team with Nike jackets which were followed by a backpack the next year. Last year, he gave the team Under Armour tops and stepped it up this year by including Nike pants to go along with the quarter zips.
"With all the hard work they put in, the kids deserve this," said Gonzalez.
At around 10:40 a.m., the coaches and most of the runners met and set down their belongings before "Running the Halls." However, the frosh (of course) were late trying to get out of class for early dismissal.
"I don't know if they are trying to ask if they can leave, but I just got up and left," said one upper-classman on the team.
Unveiling the postseason gear
When the younger runners finally arrived, Gonzalez led the team to the doors of the main gym and said, "Look for your name and get dressed. This is your outfit for the day."
The team rushed over to the tables that held their reward for a long season of pounding the pavement. Each runner eagerly rifled through the quarter zips.
Like a true millennial, one screamed, "Oh my god, the pants have a pocket for our phones!"
With the team running behind schedule, Gonzalez asked the runners to quickly change into their new attire so they could make their way to the third floor of the school.
Five minutes later, the team emerged from the locker room delighted and ready for pictures.
Running the Halls
At the tail end of second period, Trinity students stepped outside of their classrooms and stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the school's lockers. Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us" blasted from the speakers as students on the second floor peeked toward the end of the hall, awaiting the latest state-bound group to come bolting past.
Descending from the third-floor staircase, the team jogged across the hall, showered by cheers and clapping from peers while others aimed phones to film the spectacle.
On the first floor, runners finished at the school's front entrance, greeted by their parents. With Trinity's student population flooding down from all three floors of the school, the team and their parents entered the main gym for one last good-bye before the trip to Peoria for the state finals.
Away from the congestion of the hallways, the team and family members paused in prayer to wish the runners luck. Coaches chatted and shared laughs with the parents.
Juniors Kate Foley and Sylvia Ritzler have been on this ride for three years. Having done "Running the Halls" since their first year at Trinity, they recognize how special it is to have the support of the school and community.
"The team dynamic is different every year, and this season and this past sectionals was really, really, really difficult for us," said Foley. "I think both traditions are nice because you feel the warmth of the Trinity community cheering you on and Coach Yo [Gonzalez] supporting us with a gift before state is really nice. It's a great sendoff for us."
Having taken the state gift up another level, what does that mean for next year?
"We heard some rumors about Nike Pegasus shoes, so maybe next year we'll get those," both runners said with assurance. "But really, this is amazing, and we are so thankful that he has done this for us."
There appears to be a sizeable gap between the team's "expectations" and what Gonzalez has in mind.
"They told you they wanted Pegasus and air pods, didn't they?" said Gonzalez with a laugh. "I was only joking about that earlier this year. I would love to get them that, but it's not in the budget. We will figure it out."
For a program that hadn't experienced this level of consistent success in a long time, figuring out the state gift for next year is a really good problem to have for any head coach.
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