Saturday November 14th is a day Ronnie Gillespie will probably long remember. That day, in a PIAA District 1 AAA playoff game, he was injured twice.
The second one was the emotional one he and his teammates took after a rather nasty beating at the hands of West Chester Rustin in the 46-0 gridiron blowout.
The first injury was much more personal.
The 5' 9-1/2", 150 pounds cornerback was closing on a run coming to his side when someone rolled over his right leg, resulting in a bone chip fracture and high ankle sprain.
This was November 14th. As in last year.
Now the guy is running some of the top 100 and 200 meter times in the state.
Pretty impressive stuff considering that he was off the foot on crutches and in a cast of one variety or another for nearly three months.
Or that he is only a sophomore.
Or that he only ran the events a few times as a freshman.
Make no mistake. Gillespie considers himself first and foremost a football player. Over his four-year career from middle school through last fall, he has had stints at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback, and kickoff and punt returner.
Obviously, football coaches know fast when they see it go by. And Gillespie hopes to use that natural speed next fall at both running back and wide receiver, in addition to his defensive duties.
But track coaches know fast too. And first-year head coach Dean Wright - who has coached at both Perkiomen Valley and Methacton - was thrilled when he saw this sophomore for the first time.
Wright has 59 out for the team, which is part of the reason the district hired Wright. He took over during indoor track, and gave the team the first-time experience of running at the Armory in New York – a slightly different experience than the regular circuit of Kutztown and Haverford.
Gillespie was not with the team. He was rehabbing his leg. And he was living in the weight room at the school.
"I mainly lift for football, but I have added the crunches and pushups and other core work for track," he says.
Wright knows that Gillespie's relentless work ethic is a lot of the reason he is not only competing so early, but competing at such a high level. "He is more filled in. And all during winter track, I saw him in the weight room all the time."
When Gillespie got his soft cast on the leg in mid-February, he says he started doing some things on his own in addition to the physical therapy he was receiving. "I'd go up stairs, and push off the foot. And I did ball workouts, standing on a foam plate and bouncing on the bad foot and catching a ball."
And he started running.
But track was not a given.
A football guy in the fall, Gillespie had played baseball every spring.
Baseball coaches know fast too, and they slotted Gillespie at shortstop and in center field, the two positions that have to cover the most ground, quickly.
As a 9th grader, Gillespie was on the freshman team. Some of his friends had moved up to JV, leaving only one really good friend on the squad.
Plus, he was getting bored with baseball.
But something else was happening as well. He had friends on the track team, and they knew fast as well.
"The track guys were recruiting me heavily."
But leaving baseball and a team was tough. He did one day of track, and the next day went back to baseball... only to make a permanent move back to track a day later.
During his first season of track he got to experience both the 100 and 200 from the prelims side of things. He ran two invitationals, the Viking Invitational in late March, and the Henderson T&F Invitational in early May. He went 11.76 and 11.64 respectively, in the two meets, and did not make a final. And the same thing went for the 200 at both, with a 25.22 at Viking and a 24.28 at Henderson.
But he was starting a trend. Something you don't usually see in a such a short race with an inexperienced runner.
His times improved each time he raced.
And this season, he picked up right where he left off - despite losing time to his football injury.
The week before the April 3rd Bruce Dallas Invitational at Cumberland Valley HS, coach Wright says he knew Gillespie was ready to surprise some people. With a little help from a breeze, he busted a 10.7h and a 23.0h at a dual meet.
Wright know fast. But he also knows natural talent when he sees it.
"He is one of the smoothest runners I have ever seen," says the coach. "There is no wasted motion."
So for the Bruce Dallas meet, Wright seeded his budding star right where he knew he could be, 11.04 and 22.68 - making him the top seed in both events.
This "unknown" showed up at the line for the start of the 100 prelims, and proceeded to cruise to another PR of 11.12. In the finals, he would break the meet record and dip under 11 seconds for the first time, going 10.98. And in the 200 - with finals on time - Gillespie broke 23 seconds for the first time in a big invite, going 22.98, while visibly easing up at the finish. His 100 time qualified him for District 1. But he would have to wait a week to get his 200 qualifier.
On April 10th at Viking, he continued his PR flurry, going 10.97 in capturing the 100, and 22.46 in the 200. If he repeats both efforts at the district meet, he'll reach one of this goals for this year, to qualify for the PIAA State Championships.
And he's still just learning.
Coach Wright and Gillespie both see improvements in technique and strategy that will help him continue to improve. "I bob my head up and down in the 100. I have to keep my head still," he admits. "And in the 200, I used to jog the turn, let people pass me, and then I'd sprint from 100 meters to the finish."
Wright agrees with both assessments. "He starts too slow in the 200 because he's worried about dying. He can get away with it now, but can't do that against the better competition coming soon."
To help his charges prepare for the events, Wright says they do lots of hills, plus repeat 2's and 4's.
What pleases Wright the most is Gillespie's obvious work ethic and his attitude. "He is a good student, and he is well liked," Wright says. "He's only a sophomore and he was one of winners in the Mr. Upper Perkiomen contest."
Wright is sure the early success will only fuel Gillespie's fire to excel. "He won't rest on success."
As for Gillespie, he says his focus on track and success to date is due largely to a new mindset. "I am trying to be a role model for the freshman on the team. I know how it felt to go through an invitational and do something horrible and have to dwell on it. I tell them they have to move on."
And moving on is all this very fast sophomore is thinking about now. He'll prepare for his district races at Great Valley April 17th, the Penn Relays with his teammates in the 4x100, the Henderson Invitational again this year, and the Pioneer Athletic Conference meet.
And he knows he only got one meet record - the 100 - at Bruce Dallas. Gillespie is well aware that the 200 record is still held by one Brady Gehret of Altoona.
Gillespie knows fast when he sees it. And that's exactly where he wants to go.
"After all, fast times will look good on my football resume," admitted the running back-wide receiver-cornerback-sprinter."
He's making new memories and new friends in his new sport. And know it or not, he's building a resume in track that is sure to get noticed.