Hares, Hounds, and an Unlikely Superfan

It’s been about two hundred years since the students of the Shrewsbury School in England invented a new game in which they pretended to engage in an epic rabbit hunt. A couple of students took off running through whatever winding path they wished, carrying with them scraps of paper to drop along the way and lay down a trail. These were the hares.

This guy looks like he’s ready to catch
some rabbits. R.H.Moore: All about dogs; a book for doggy people New York,J. Lane,1900. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/
item/75529, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After giving the hares about a ten-minute head start, the next wave of students took off in hot pursuit, doing their best to follow the paper trail “scent” and locate their prey, like good “harriers.” These hounds were usually the younger of the remaining students because older, bigger students rarely tolerate being referred to as dogs.

At last came the field. These were the oldest students who really got their wriggle on and went in for the metaphorical kill. At least I assume it was metaphorical. The whole thing was designed to resemble the traditional hare or fox hunt. It was also a pretty good way to get some exercise.

In general, I approve of exercise and as I’ve mentioned once or twice before I have an almost irrational hatred of rabbits, so it might seem like this game would be right up my alley. Except that it isn’t, because I also have an entirely rational hatred of running. I’ve mentioned that once or twice, too.

The game of “hare and hounds” (referred to sometimes as “paper chase”) certainly does require a lot of running. In fact, it wasn’t long before this game became a competitive sport at public schools throughout England and soon after Oxford and Cambridge. By 1876 the sport held an English national championship.

Ok, no there weren’t really 25,000 athletes. But it was a lot. And not one of the runners you can see in this picture is my son.

Eleven years later it had come to the United States. By then the imaginary rabbit had long been abandoned and the sport had become known as cross country. Today it shows up all over the world with lots of crazy people (referred to sometimes as “runners”) who just run through the countryside. For fun, I guess.

It’s definitely not my kind of sport, but I have been working on becoming a superfan because my youngest son has decided he would like to spend his high school years as a crazy person. He started this past spring surprising me, and possibly himself, by deciding to run distance events in Track & Field. Turns out he’s pretty good at it, and improving rapidly.

I, however, have discovered that cross country is a difficult sport to spectate. His first meet of the schoolyear occurred earlier this week at a very crowded park with what felt like about a thousand other schools, each with at least twenty-five runners. I exaggerate, of course, but only because I rarely could pick out my son in the pack.

I may not love running, but as long as I bring one of these to the meet, my son is happy enough to grant me superfan status.

I lined up with thousands (probably) of parents along the start and saw a mass of runners take off. I really can only assume he was among them. Then I shuffled along with the crowd to another part of the course, held up my camera to catch a picture of him running past, and failed to find him before the horde of spectators began once again to shuffle into a new place and I missed him again.

I did see him cross the finish line, right at his goal time for the event. I caught up with him afterwards to give him his special sport recovery drink I’d been keeping cold for him and to tell him how comfortable he had looked on the course. I assume that was probably mostly true since he was smiling. At least it seemed like the kind of thing a superfan parent should say.

I really am proud of him, though I’m not sure where he got his love for the sport. It’s probably safe to assume that is wasn’t from his mother who mostly thinks running is stupid. But just maybe it stems in part from a shared innate drive to hunt down rabbits.

17 thoughts on “Hares, Hounds, and an Unlikely Superfan

  1. I have participated in several sports over the years, but cross country was definitely not one of them. I could never justify running for anything unless there was a score to be kept, goals or points to be scored, etc. Just running for the sake of keeping how much time it took and to get ahead of others isn’t my thing. That being said, I do have admiration for cross country because the runners are competing not only with themselves and others, but the often picturesque terrain as well. Good luck to your son, and it is refreshing to know keeping him refreshed will maintain your status as a superfan. (I bet those hares back in the day would have been tempted to stop off mid-race for a shot of blue raspberry…)

    1. Yes, battling the course is part of the “fun” I think. This morning on the way to school he was counting down the days until he gets to run the course with a hill they call the “Man Maker.” Whatever makes him happy, I guess.

  2. Oh, you are hilarious, Sarah. I first learned about this game when I read The Railway Children as a child and one of the chases is described in some detail. Great going by your son, it is excellent for young men to exercise and learn endurance.

    1. Me, too! I’m pretty impressed with their dedication. Even if I could physically do it, which I think I have finally convinced myself that I more or less can’t, I can’t handle the mental game. Each step is harder than the last.

    1. I’ve always been a little sporty, but never much of a runner. Though I am a sucker for a silly event so I do have my fair share of event tee shirts and finishers medals. This past 4th of July, my son and I did a 5K together, except not really because he ran it with his coach and teammates and I walked it with friends.

  3. I grew up with “paper chases” at primary school. I never knew the hare and fox bit. Secondary school was the cross country – designed by teachers to pass through swamps and over stiles and through herds of dirty-footwear-producing cows!

  4. Bravo for your son! Our daughter also ran XC and we traipsed across Bush Park, various golf courses, into and out of stadiums, state parks, and pastures (now, maybe I’m exaggerating). We felt heroic for simply attending in all sorts of weather to simply catch a glimpse of her. Be prepared for the unexpected: falls, being tripped, scrapes and bruises, achieving a new PR, but also great camaraderie twixt runners and parents.
    I can tell you’re really into this.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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