In the world of sports, numbers have taken on new importance. What started in baseball with sabermetrics has spread to other sports. Everyone is trying to define greatness in sports based on strange new statistics, percentages and numbers.
Maybe there really is something to all this number obsession. Let me offer up this ratio – 22 out of 26. No matter how you figure it, that is an impressive percentage. Try to convince KU track and field coach Stanley Redwine otherwise. The coach took 26 female athletes to Iowa State last weekend for the Big 12 Indoor Track & Field Championships. Of those 26, 22 scored points for KU. By early evening Sunday, the points those 22 tallied resulted in a two point victory over the Texas women.
KU made the drive home to Lawrence Sunday night with the Championships’ trophy on the team bus, the first Championship ever for the women’s track and field team and the first for a KU track and field team of either gender since 1983. Those numbers added up to something special, and it all came down to just two points. Nearly the slimmest of margins. Analyze it every way possible. Whether it was 10 points as an event winner or just one point for finishing eighth, every point was critical. The sum of it all totaled up to a team victory.
Track and field is a wonderful sport to photograph. The athletes come in all sizes and shapes. Some have personalities as big as any weight thrower or as dynamic as the fastest sprinter. Others have the quiet reserve of a long distance runner. All are fun to be around, and the performances are as electrifying as anything in sports.
What is odd about collegiate track and field is that it takes all those individuals and asks them to be a team. These athletes compete against other individuals, but there is also a competition with themselves to be their best for the team. KU needed each of their athletes to be just that. For the most part, that is exactly what they did. As a result, the celebration was as real and honest as I have witnessed in a long time.
Since we are talking numbers, here are a few more. This is my 17th school year photographing athletics for Kansas. Outside of the many men’s basketball championships, only soccer in 2004 and softball and baseball in 2006 have been able to celebrate team victories as the KU women did Sunday night. It was a delight to photograph such unbridled joy. All those personalities melded into the only number that mattered. One.