When Wantagh’s James McVeigh ran the Cougar 3,200 last Saturday at Bellmore JFK, his uniform had an unusual look — the black and yellow jersey didn’t match his bright green, white and orange shorts.
The shorts, representing the colors of the Irish flag, are part of a tradition for the Wantagh boys track team. Runners wear their own flag as a badge of honor to show dedication to distance running, but there’s a catch. You only get invited to wear them if you break five minutes for the mile or 5:30 for the girls 1,500.
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“I’m Irish and that’s what I got,” McVeigh said. “It was fun, so I threw them on for this race.”
The shorts are allowed during BJK’s Cougar race, which is known for its quirkiness with an elimination format and goofy introductions for each participant. Normally, the shorts are a practice-only addition.
The tradition of “Flag Short Fridays” at practice started in late 2013 when a couple runners broke out some original trunks. It’s grown over the years to include states and countries ranging from McVeigh’s Ireland to 2015 graduate Brent Kavaler’s California pair.
“You become dedicated, you get really into the sport, then if you break five minutes in the mile you just kind of earn them,” Kavaler said.
Wantagh distance coach Jordan Ashley said the wackiest looking shorts he’s seen is probably the Maryland state flag, but beyond the spectacle, he’s seen the fabric as a tool to get the team bonding.
“Regardless of whether it’s a workout or a distance run, it gets them excited for the day of practice and ready for the weekend whether it’s a meet or another day of practice,” Ashley said.
Kavaler, who ran in his shorts adorned with the California bear at last year’s Cougar race, said being able to wear them shows you’ve moved up to the big leagues. He saw the trend grow from a couple runners before him to those who followed including McVeigh.
“It gives you a sense of belonging,” Kavaler said. “You feel like you put in hard work and you got good things because of it. If you’re not in it you want to be a part of it and if you’re in it you know how close it is.”
Now a good season for the Warriors means more runners hitting running websites looking for their own creative outlet. That legacy isn’t lost on Kavaler.
“It’s almost like prestige,” he said. “Everyone looks up to you — you’ve got the flag shorts.”