Gulf Winds Track Club 2006 Bill Lott Volunteer of the Year

By Gary Droze

It makes perfect sense that the volunteer of the year cannot be here tonight to accept his award. As club members, we should not feel slighted by his absence, any more than the producers of the hit movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” should feel slighted by Chris Gardner’s absence from the Hollywood premiere of the movie he inspired. If you didn’t read about it, Gardner sent his regrets, because of a prior engagement: he was the scheduled volunteer speaker for a Chamber of Commerce meeting in his home town of Appleton, Wisconsin. That hardly compares to the glamour and prestige of a movie premiere in L.A. (although reportedly, the Appleton Chamber meetings trot out a cheese spread to die for).

Tonight’s winner shows a similar sense of priorities in the way he conducts his life, especially as it relates to the running community. He could have been here basking in well-deserved glory. Instead, he kept a prior commitment, heading to Gainesville to escort young Tallahassee athletes entered in a track meet at UF. It’s a pretty big meet: the BCS National Championship game was originally scheduled for today, but they had to move it to accommodate all the Florida track & field fans. OK, not really. They moved the game because it conflicted with our Gulf Winds banquet.

Our winner’s main conflicts arise because he assists so many of us that we have all come to expect his help, often at the same time. That’s what he gets for showing expertise in so many areas. For example:

He is the recognized automatic timing guru for track meets of all types in the area. He certainly must know he is indispensable in this role, yet he acts like we are doing him a favor by pestering him to oversee the timing of dozens of meets each year. Generally, this task gobbles up a full day at the track, and requires hours of editing toil at home. Unlike most of us who won’t take on the hassle of accommodating competitors and coaches who fail to follow entry instructions, our man calmly ensures every athlete gets entered, which doubles his workload. Sometimes, he charges a little for his time. More often, he either doesn’t charge, or “forgets” to ask for remuneration. I’m fairly certain this guy is a masochist.

He also collects $5.15 per hour BELOW the federal minimum wage for the lonely chore of maintaining the Big Bend honor roll during both track and cross-country seasons. I can tell you from experience that this volunteer job involves lots of after-hours labor and tedious fact-checking. The only rewards he gets for this work are late-night phone calls from irate coaches who can’t believe he has the gall to print misspelled names – that they have mistakenly sent in. I have psychologist friends who agree that this guy is a masochist.

As a coach, tonight’s winner violates the first rule of managing a squad: take care of your program only, and to hell with other teams and runners. No, he makes life harder for himself by showing up and rendering crucial assistances at events all over town, whether or not his kids are even involved in the competition. Similarly, this coach teaches sportsmanship and a sense of community by providing opportunities for his runners to train with – and develop friendships with – runners from other teams. That takes extra effort, and yields little tangible reward. Reportedly, the next edition of Webster’s Dictionary will feature an illustration of this guy. Just look up “Masochist.”

Finally, this coach earns respect from his charges by his willingness to take part in races, long runs, and intervals. Not everybody with a linebacker’s build has the guts to endure an ectomorph’s sport, but this young man doesn’t let that stop him. Some of his athletes may outrun him, but he’s willing to hurt just as much as they are. There’s a term for people like that.

By now, we know WHAT this guy is; I’m proud to tell you WHO he is: the 2006 winner of the Bill Lott Volunteer of the year award is Godby track & cross-country coach Chris Sumner.