Dynasties in any sport come and go, but the Hawkins family holds a special place in Spokane high school running lore. The family’s journey is chronicled in Peter Hawkins book, Varsity Seven, and it shines a spotlight on the magic of high school cross-country in Spokane.
Hawkins writes, “Since 1979, Spokane has sent male or female distance runners to 24 of the 38 Foot Locker National Championships: that is over 60% of the time one town has been represented on a National level. There are over 266,000 male high school distance runners and 226,000 female high school runners comprising over 29,000 teams in the United States. The GSL [Greater Spokane League] is a statistical outlier in every respect.”
From 1993 to 2010, the Hawkins siblings raced at Ferris High School, and competed in one of the most competitive leagues in the country. Peter is the fifth of seven kids, and he raced within a string of state championship teams starting in 2003. Many of his brothers and sisters also landed on the podium at the state meet, and his older brother Isaac is now an assistant coach at Ferris.
Admittedly, the “Varsity Seven” story rolls along with a Hawkins-family bias; however, the author invested a solid portion of the book to emphasize many of the trailblazers and iconic Eastern Washington runners who paved the way for high school cross-country. The book contains unique interviews and special stories featuring Gerry Lindgren, Rick Riley, Don Kardong, Pat Tyson, and Jon Knight.
In the forward, legendary Mead High School Coach Pat Tyson writes, “The beauty of this book is that Peter Hawkins has crafted an accurate and detail rich story. All who are within these pages have been amazed at how this book rings true to the tenor of the time. Just as Spokane seems to be a city locked in time, like “The Wonder Years,” so too are these vignettes snapshots into an era. And Peter has done what he has seen other athletes and coaches do in Spokane; he has made this accessible to everyone.”
Even if you aren’t a runner, this is a great book. The tensions between various schools, and the rollercoaster rides for different siblings, and the struggles that coaches had to endure are woven together to make a fascinating story about running and family. At the heart of the book, the title, the story, and the family are all connected.
Decade after decade, Spokane proves it’s a runner’s town, thanks to Bloomsday, the Centennial Trail, running clubs like the Flying Irish, and forward-thinking programs like Active 4 Youth. Some say it’s because the legacy of past high school cross-country runners investing in their community. Others say it’s the current crop of high school cross-country runners and coaches that plant the seeds for the rest of the runners. Most likely, it’s a mix of all of the above.
Hawkins readily admits that the book is not a complete encyclopedia of Spokane running. There are “other families not mentioned in this book that were also bit by the running bug.” He also emphasizes there were lots of runners on the junior varsity squads that gave everything in practices and races, and made those varsity runners earn their place. This is just one small view of the Inland Northwest running landscape.
Lastly, the book succeeds on an emotional level, too. Where other running books serve as a catalog of fast times and top teams, “Varsity Seven” reveals some of the greatest successes and biggest heartbreaks that any runner could ever experience. Because sometimes the finish line is not the end of the race. Because sometimes runners endure more than miles. Because sometimes Spokane produces some of the toughest runners in the USA. //
Jon Jonckers is a Senior Editor at Out There Outdoors and an Assistant Cross Country Coach at Shadle Park High School.
[Feature photo: Jon Jonckers]