Richards makes his last lap at state

Central girls track team made final trip to Charleston under its longtime coach

As the Hinsdale Central girls track and field team was completing the final leg of its season Saturday at the IHSA state final at Eastern Illinois University, head coach Pat Richards was wrapping up his 34-year tenure.

"It's been a long but a good road," said Richards, who watched his Red Devils compete valiantly but come up short of registering points this year. "Not the way I wanted to go out."

He acknowledged that the depth of talent in Illinois right now is the most he's seen.

"We didn't even get a sniff of the finals this year. But our kids put everything they had into it," he said,

Sophomore Avery Bonino was the only Devil able qualify out of the preliminaries, both in the triple jump and long jump events. She finished 25th (4.8 meters) and 35th (10.8 meters), respectively. Other highlights included senior Leena Abu-Ghazalah setting a personal record of 47.55 in the 300-meter hurdles to claim 30th place in the prelims.

"We left everything out there," Richards said.

Taking over as girls track head coach in 1990, Richards led the program to multiple conference and sectional championships and the school's first and only state title in 2010. The team also took third place in 2016 and ninth place last year.

His last trip to Charleston was a nostalgic one.

"I got a chance to sit there and absorb the whole thing. We had so many unbelievable things happen to us down here," he remarked. "It's bittersweet and really hard walking away from it."

Senior Camden Griffin, who ran anchor on the 4x800-meter relay, said both the competition and companionship at her last high school meet was special.

"I loved racing for the last time with my best friends and having all my teammates hang out in my room," she said.

Representing Hinsdale Central deeply enriched her high school experience.

"Being part of the Red Devil track program means hanging out with your friends, pushing each other to (set personal records), and making lifelong memories," Griffin related.

Senior Ana Hodneland was part of the 4x200 relay, saving her best performance for her last sprint.

"One highlight was running a personal best time throughout all of high school in the 4x200 relay this weekend," she said, echoing Griffin on the joy of team camaraderie. "Getting ready for the meet and talking in the dorms together was a great team bonding experience. I have enjoyed meeting some of my best friends, getting to know the coaches and competing in relays."

Richard's trip down memory lane was supercharged last week when a group of his former athletes came in from around the country - some with their own little future runners in tow - to surprise him at practice and escort him for one final lap around Dickinson Field.

"They kept telling me thank you for all the things that you've done for us. And I said, 'Well you've done so much for me.' I was almost lost for words.

"It's nice to see that so many of those kids are doing so well and still keep in touch with me wherever they are. That outweighs all the medals and recognition."

Senior Kennedy Boyd said she, another member of the 4x800 relay, forged bonds that will last beyond the oval.

"Hinsdale Central track brings together girls you'd never know you would be close to," Boyd commented, saying she's cherished her state meet experience the last two years. "It's thrilling to see all of our hard work from January to May finally pay off for us making it to state."

Richards, who will continue coaching football at Neuqua Valley near his Naperville home, said he loves his work.

"I wouldn't trade my profession with anybody," he said. "When those kids know you love them and care about them, they'll run through a brick wall for you."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean