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Ode to Tom Arnold
By: Allen Meringolo and Jack Riely
Photos by Dale Tuttle
webmaster@mocorunning.com
2016-11-15


"Brockett, if you don't pass Kazunas, we run another! Kazunas, if you let Brockett pass you, we run another!"

Anyone walking by the Andrew Kim Field in Olney, MD on a Wednesday afternoon in early October 2009, would have heard a tall skinny, bald man yelling this emphatically as a bunch of shirtless high school boys, dripping sweat, were lining up in a staggered formation on a field with a cone placed 400 meters in front of them.

The 2009 Good Counsel boys varsity team, still breathing hard from the tough workout just completed, positioned themselves in line, ordered from slowest to fastest with about ten meters between each other. The aforementioned skinny, bald man was Coach Tom Arnold and he was explaining to us that we were going to run a 400 with each of us starting a little after the guy in front of us and that we had to catch the runner in front of us but that we were also not supposed to let anyone catch us. Logically, it was a no-win situation. We finished the 400 with varying degrees of success and jogged back to the starting line expecting to be done when Coach Arnold said, "back on the line." Exhausted after finishing the second one, we jogged back thinking, "now we have to be done". After a second's hesitation, Coach Arnold told us to get back on the line. Muscles screaming, we finished another interval and began the gallows jog back to the starting line. Reminiscent of the "again" scene in Miracle, we had no idea when they were going to end. After the third 400, we lined up on the starting line, muscles cramping, steam rising off of our bodies, hoping for a reprieve but not daring to expect one, when Coach Arnold finally seemed content with our efforts for the day and allowed us to collapse in a heap.

We had run poorly the previous weekend and we were not hitting our assigned interval times that day. To us at the time, it seemed as if Coach Arnold was punishing us for these lackluster performances. But looking back seven years later, the point of these chaser 400s was to drive home the fact that the team's success relied on each runner 1-7 being accountable; our number 1 man was no more important than number 7 man. It was also to instill a competitiveness in us - even when we were exhausted at the end of the race and no matter how well or poorly we had run to that point, in the last 400 meters our focus must be to pass as many people as we could and never under any circumstance get passed.

Twenty year NBA veteran and future of Hall of Famer Ray Allen, in his retirement letter last month, sums up a mantra that Tom Arnold has built his program on and lived his life by, "In every locker room you'll ever be in, everybody will say all the right things. Everybody says they're willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to win a title...It's not about talk. It's getting in your work every single day, when nobody is watching."

This is how Tom Arnold would consistently take relatively small groups of 20-30 guys and 10-15 girls year in and year out and consistently turn them into teams that would compete for WCAC and state titles and be a threat to finish top 5 at major invitationals every Fall. There was no secret workouts. Instead, it had everything to do with the passion and seriousness of purpose he brought on a daily basis for 34 years and his insistence on commitment and sacrifice from each and every one of his runners.

Where another coach might recommend his runners to put in some mileage over summer, Coach Arnold would host daily 6am runs every weekday from the second week of June through the middle of August - bringing a cooler of ice water and often setting the pace himself to ensure his athletes were putting in the work to be prepared for the Fall. If that wasn't enough, in the first week of of August every year, he organized the Concord retreat running camp which tested the limits of his runners and other runners in the DC area on the vaunted hills of West Virginia. Where another coach might suggest her athletes maintain healthy eating habits, Coach Arnold would provide a detailed guide to a healthy diet at the cross country informational meeting in June and give 'gentle reminders' to athletes he caught eating fries and pizza at lunch. Where another coach might tell his runners their school comes first, Coach Arnold would demand academic excellence as a prerequisite for being on the team. Where another coach might talk about how every athlete from her best to worst is held to the same standards, Coach Arnold had no qualms about telling his absent minded boys varsity number 2 runner and senior captain who was late to the first day of organized practice that if he was late to another practice the rest of the Fall, he was off of the team. Where another coach might suggest his athletes go online and research the competition, Coach Arnold would put in untold hours to crunch numbers and put together detailed statistical analyses and race plans, going so far as to make accurate projections of finish places for rival teams we haven't raced all year based on their performances against teams we had raced against so his athletes knew exactly what to expect and who to look out for when the gun went off. Where another coach would send out an email with race results, Coach Arnold would regularly author The Falcon Runner, an exhaustive and beautifully written recap of races, workouts, comparisons to past teams, and his reflections from, in his words, "the halcyon days of summer" to the end of the season. Where another coach might encourage athletes to mentally prepare, Coach Arnold led positive mental imaging sessions where he had his athletes mentally go through their entire race from lacing up their shoes to crossing the finish line.

It is cliche but Coach Arnold always recognized that success on the cross country course was secondary to instilling habits that would serve his athletes for life. He coached the whole person. He demanded academic success, good citizenship, and a complete commitment to the team, from the best runner to the worst.

Through both the trials of miles experience of running GC cross country and the light-hearted environment he cultivated through his pranks and playful teasing (i.e. if you left anything in his truck after practice, you had to sing "I'm a little teapot" to get it back), he created a team culture where hundreds of Good Counsel students have found a social outlet, developed interpersonal confidence, and made lifelong friends. Furthermore, when you as an athlete showed loyalty to him and the team, there was no end to the ways Coach Arnold would reciprocate.

His door was always open for you to come chat whether it be about running, training theory, school, personal values, or philosophical questions. If you were having trouble in your chemistry class or any other subject where he was knowledgeable, Coach Arnold was always available to tutor you. His college recommendation letters sold you to any prospective college better than you yourself ever could. Whenever his alumni come back and visit him at Good Counsel, Coach Arnold always has time to reminisce about the glory days and find out how his former athletes are doing.

For 34 years, Coach Arnold demanded nothing more or less than the absolute best from his athletes. Anyone who was willing to come out everyday and work hard would do well under Tom Arnold. In addition to prolific performances from his teams and individual runners, he instilled personal responsibility, leadership, and above all work ethic in all of his athletes. After five more years of running, a combined 7 coaches between us, and countless conversations with teammates, we have never encountered or heard of a coach who has dedicated so much time and put in so much effort for the success of his athletes. On behalf of Good Counsel cross country and track and field runners, past and present, and the greater DC-area running community, we want to congratulate Coach Arnold on an incredible coaching career and express our most sincere gratitude for making us the people we are today.

- Allen Meringolo and Jack Riely, Our Lady of Good Counsel '12





Article Comments - Add A Comment

NameComment

ronaciousT
2016-11-15 22:15:16

Excellent tribute to an incredible coach.

Mike Fitzgerald
2016-11-15 22:57:59

Brilliant tribute, Jack & Allen. Coach A's ways will be missed, but never forgotten. Having him as a coach for four years has made me a better, more rational, more compassionate person to this day

l33tweasley
2016-11-17 13:23:02

Congratulations on completing a truly fantastic career, CoachA!

Kevin Moose
2016-11-18 10:25:11

What a wonderful article, thanks very much for getting this out. I had the pleasure of helping out a little bit with GC Cross Country Teams from 1995-2000. Tom poked his head into the Social Studies office at the old building and asked if I would like to assist. It was an honor and a privilege to work with Coach Arnold, and I continue to speak about him with young people who have never met him but who need to learn about examples of hard work, never cutting corners, and performing to the best of one's ability no matter what level that may be. These are absolutely vital life lessons that we need now more than ever. Every young person should be lucky enough to encounter an adult like Coach and Teacher Tom Arnold. Congratulations and thanks to coaches, teachers and mentors from all walks of life who interact with young people and try to make positive and lasting impressions and teach values that help one become a good person and do the right thing long after the competitions end. Tom is the master, and thousands of us are better for knowing him. Go Falcons!!

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