The 2003 award winners each had their chance to express themselves. They thanked their families, their teammates, their coaches, their God. They told stories. They relived a part of their pasts. If they didn’t come right out and say it, they all left the impression that the high school sports they did so easily was a special time in their lives.
None of them said it any better than Matt Miller, a 2003 high school graduate who was a part of the amazing string of 10 straight state track championships by the Kearney High boys track program, a streak honored as a Great Moment in High School Sports at the program. Miller’s speech brought out what the Hall of Fame wishes every high school sports program could leave with all its participants. In part, here is Miller’s response:
“Picture this, an un-athletic freshman whose best mile time rivals that of the fourth period Phys. Ed. class. Picture this, that freshman the worst athlete on the entire track team striving to break 2:30 in the 800 meters. The only reason he runs distance is because it’s not as much of an embarrassment as the other track events. Picture that same freshman who can’t even stay with the pack during the warm-up. Picture this, and you have pictured me, or rather a fourteen-year-old version of me when school was still scary and my confidence waning.
“I’m still not quite sure how I got roped into cross-country and track, but deep down I knew that if I didn’t run I would regret it. So why did I stay out? Coming in last place everyday isn’t exactly a confidence booster. Why didn’t I quit?
“We know future state championships aren’t built on freshmen who run 2:12s but on seniors who turn that into 1:57s. I do know that by my senior year, I had turned my 2:30 into a 2:07. After four years, the freshman who struggled to break the 6:00 mile had become a respectable Class A middle-distance runner. I even ran on the varsity 4×800 meter relay through the district meet. This might not seem like much of an accomplishment; after all, practically every high school in Nebraska has at least one half-miler who can run under 2:10. But at Kearney High it is different. Instead of a second string loser, I was a team leader. Instead of hiding in the back, I was up front leading the stretches. At Kearney High, I was respected because of my heart, not just because of my speed. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like, to actually win a race. And sometimes I hated it, having no talent. But I was always respected no matter what; because the Kearney High Track Program is built upon my shoulders; that is, upon the shoulders of athletes who know the meaning of hard work and live up to their full potential, no matter where they are on the team.
“I can’t even begin to explain the impact this program has had on my life. They turned me into a true leader.. . Coach Mathiesen showed me the fire I had inside of me. And that fire has translated to my everyday life which is now my attitude. Kearney High does much more than win championships; they make champions of the smallest of men. And this is a feat much greater than any state title.”