It’s about a 125-mile drive from New Meadows to Middleton High School, but Brandon Wittell didn’t arrive at the 1A state track meet in a standard yellow bus, the way most athletes came to the Treasure Valley on Friday.
Wittell and Randall Annunziato rolled up in a team minivan.
Wittell is a senior who runs the 800 meters at Meadows Valley, a K-12 school near the junction of U.S. 95 and Idaho 55 about 11 miles northwest of McCall. There are 41 high school students and seven people in Wittell’s graduating class, and he is the only athlete at the 1A track meet from Meadows Valley. Annunziato, his head coach, is his chauffeur for the weekend.
While most athletes spend their time on road trips having group discussions or listening to music, Wittell and Annunziato had a conversation about karma.
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A two-and-a-half drive in a minivan can be boring, so why not get deep?
“We talked about how you give what you put in,” said Annunziato, who prior to this year had no experience coaching track.
Wittell is among a half-dozen or so athletes who are their school’s only representatives at the state track meets. Timberline Weippe’s Erin Sellers (long jump), Summit Academy’s Patrick Chmelik (high jump), Richfield’s Erica Kent (1,600-meter run), Rimrock’s Phoenyx Wright (high jump) and Mullan’s Seth Dechand (discus) also are lone wolves.
New Meadows is a town of around 500 people. Middleton High, where the 1A, 2A and 3A meets are taking place, has nearly 1,200 students. Meadows Valley does not have its own track; instead, the team of six athletes traveled to McCall once a week during the season to practice race conditions.
“It’s just kind of overwhelming,” Wittell said. “But it’s also kind of fun, too, because you get to meet new people (here).”
The state track meet is a unique opportunity for Wittell and other athletes who traveled without their peers. For one, all 500 or so eyes in New Meadows are on Wittell. And even if it’s just for a day or two, it’s an admittedly bittersweet opportunity.
“It’s a little intense, just because everyone is kind of looking at you,” Wittell said. “It’s nice, but it’s not, because I wanted my other senior (to be here).”
The other negative of being the only athlete from his school is, of course, not being able to have team bonding opportunities. Wittell’s race isn’t until around 2 p.m. Saturday. The team minivan could have easily departed Saturday morning and made it with plenty of time to spare, but Annunziato felt that allowing his runner the chance to have the same experiences everyone else has was important. They planned to spend the evening carb-loading at Olive Garden before sharing a room at the Nampa Super 8.
“This is an experience. A kid from small-town rural Idaho. Olive Garden is a treat,” Annunziato said. “We’re trying to make a big deal of it, just for him.”
That one-on-one relationship the two are experiencing is something to be treasured, according to Annunziato. Those long car rides and the meet itself are much more defining than any amount of all-you-can-eat salad and breadsticks can possibly offer.
“It feels more like a friendship than a coach-student relationship or coach-athlete relationship. It’s actually really neat to be a part of,” Annunziato said. “I care for this kid. I want him to succeed.”