Devil Played Tricks at 15th Cougar Relays
By: Kevin Milsted
Saturday, April 01, 2017

Every spring for the last fifteen years, Seann Pelkey has costumed himself in Halloween-esque devil attire to personify the deity for which the race is named. He cartoonishly embodies the role of maniacal tormenter during the "Devil Takes the Hindmost" races in which teens circle the track upwards of 25 times just so they might continue circling the track longer than the person next to them. The odds are stacked against the runners: one boy and one girl will finish first while a hundred or more are destined for failure. Pelkey's character frequently reminds the runners of the futility of the task at hand while hurling devious insults at every boy and girl who defiantly continues on.

Something was amiss in 2017. Runners stepped to the starting line to be greeted by a wide-eyed and disgustingly gleeful version of Coach Pelkey, who was outfitted in a halo, fairy wings, and a feather scarf. Worst of all, Pelkey's new character showered runners with compliments and encouragement in a sing-song voice while skipping and twirling up and down the home straightaway.

Just when runners and spectators began to accept this new cheerful act for whatever it was, Pelkey ducked into a tent and re-emerged with his red cape and horns. Metal music began to thrash out of the stadium loud speakers. Pelkey resumed the familiar role of treacherous heckler as the PA Announcer wished everyone a Happy April Fool's Day.

"The angel thing came to me a couple days ago when I was making some April Fool's Day jokes about the weather being nice at Cougar Relays," said Pelkey. [Editor's note: the weather is never nice at the Cougar Relays] "So I said, 'You know what? The devil should do something for April Fool's Day so I'll come out as an angel and we will have a couple angel songs and it will be perfect.'"

"I made the halo myself. The tutu [and wings] I borrowed from my daughter. The feathers were mine, though," Pelkey joked.

Generally, the best strategy for the Devil Takes the Hindmost race is to ignore Pelkey and hang back and exert as little energy as possible for as long as possible. Chris Thoms of Quince Orchard High School won the race in 2016 in the tightest race in meet history (so tight that his opponent was DQ'd for elbowing), and this year he decided that the safer strategy was to outrun his opponents.

"I ended up taking off because I didn't know the two guys in front of me after three or four laps," said Thoms. "I decided that it was riskier to stay back and let them do what they did. I decided to go in order to get away from them and I thought it worked out relatively well."

Thoms won the race for the second consecutive year with a time of 33:22 across 24 laps.

Whitman High School freshman Alicia Lauwers took the more traditional approach of biding her time in the pack for as long as she could. She had never raced longer than 5,000 meters and she was shocked when the leaders began coming back to her after about 23 minutes.

"I was kind of nervous for this race because I knew it was going to last a long time," said Lauwers.

"I just kind of went my own pace and tried to stay with the girls and I didn't go all the way in the front. I started speeding up and attaching to some of the girls."

Several more experienced girls fell back to her until she found herself in the lead almost by accident with several laps remaining.

"I was nervous that the people behind me would catch up to me and I didn't think that I could keep this up for a mile," she said.

She held off all challengers for a time of 32:58 across 21 laps (5.25 miles).

When asked if she would ever run this race again, Lauwers replied with an unconvincing upward inflection that sounded more like a question: "Yes?"

Thoms, who was the first male competitor to ever repeat as the Devil Takes the Hindmost Champion at the Cougar Relays, is all-in for next year. He wants to go for three titles in a row.

"I'm gonna try for it."


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