Hurdling the CPS obstacle
For most of the athletes heading to Charleston this weekend for the girls state track and field finals, the formula for success is talent plus desire plus experience plus support.
But Cameron Pettigrew is getting by on mainly talent and desire.
The Payton junior qualified in Class 3A in the 400 meters and the high jump, events in which she has posted some of the best efforts in the state this spring: 56.48 seconds in the 400; 5 feet, 6 inches in the high jump.
But she’s had to overcome more hurdles than many of her rivals. “I missed most of the indoor season because I played basketball,” Pettigrew said. “So next year, I’m considering whether I’m going to play.”
That’s one thing that set her back, which makes her subsequent performances that much more impressive. But as those numbers have shown, Pettigrew is blessed with considerable talent. And she’s not short on desire, either.
That led her to approach Raena Rhone, a former Young star who won the past two Class 3A state titles in the 400 before moving on to a college career at Baylor.
“Last year, I kind of approached her [and asked], ‘What do you do in the summer? Because I really want to get good.’ ’’ Pettigrew said. “And she introduced me to her summer coach.”
That collaboration has helped Pettigrew this season, for which she’s extremely grateful to Rhone.
“She’s just a great role model,” Pettigrew said. “She’s the epitome of runners for high school and in the state, for sure.”
Pettigrew could use similar help in her other event. “We don’t have a [high jump] coach or a pit to train with,” she said. “It’s hard coming out here and not having the experience or the practice earlier in the week. But I’ve been doing pretty well on my own.”
Her story is unfortunately the rule, rather than the exception, for Public League track and field athletes. There are dedicated coaches in the city, but not enough of them. And the lack of adequate facilities means many city kids will never get the chance to know how good they could be in track and field.
When he was coaching girls track at Young, Bob Geiger helped the Dolphins get a pole vault pit. That has led to several feel-good stories: Catherine Rook went on to vault at Hillsdale College and Summer Williams, a junior, qualified for state this year.
But only three Public League schools have any vaulters at all: Young, Lane and Northside. And though many schools have high jumpers and long jumpers, a lot don’t have the proper facilities to practice those events.
Geiger would love to see that situation change. But he’s also a realist.
“If you look at the state of the CPS now, in terms of where they’re at financially, they’re broke,” he said. “Where is the priority of spending $3,000 on high jump pits?”
What has happened in some cases is city schools have received donated equipment from suburban programs that are upgrading to newer models. It’s an imperfect solution, but then again we live in an imperfect world.
In the meantime, kids like Cameron Pettigrew will continue to do the best they can with what they have.