The hand-lettered sign on one end wall says the gymnasium is called THE PIT. Basic stuff. How many high school gyms in the country are called the Pit? Basic. Next to the rolled-up bleachers a couple of young coaches talk. A solitary figure dribbles a basketball, takes a shot, gets the rebound and takes another shot. A late-afternoon bell can be heard from the corridor. A yellow minibus waits in the drizzle in the parking lot outside.
Nothing unusual here. Not today.
"I saw the movie Hoosiers the other night," says Chuck Joseph, the girls' basketball coach at Hopkinton High. "The gym in the movie reminded me of this gym. Small-town America."
The annual smell of liniment and oranges—so pungent that to smell it once is to remember it for a lifetime—has not arrived. The people have not arrived. The thousands of people. The joggers. The walkers. The nervous. The determined. The champions. The hopeful. The friends. The families. The confusion has not arrived.
The everyday normal still is normal in Hopkinton, Mass. This is not the day of the Boston Marathon.
"Do you know when I know it's getting close?" cross-country coach Mike Scanlon asks. "When the portable Johns are delivered to the football field outside. They're just there, all of a sudden, a long line of them."
"The phone company seems to become awfully busy," Joseph says. "Suddenly there'll be telephone trucks and wires everywhere. And the TV trucks. I guess they have to set up early to claim a spot. They're here for at least a week."
"The helicopters," Scanlon says. "Once those helicopters arrive from the television stations, it's all over. Did you ever try to teach physics to a class of kids looking out the window at helicopters?"
Isn't that how it always happens? The support troops will arrive first and wires will be plugged into the outside world and each day will become bigger than the last and on the morning of the final day it will seem as if someone has flipped the switch and electricity runs straight from the ground into your soul. Isn't that how it always happens? The oldest and most famous road race in the country—the 91st Boston Marathon—will start here in Hopkinton, again, on April 20.
"The marathon touches everyone in this town," Scanlon says. "Everyone is involved somehow. A lot of people have runners stay at their houses. The band plays on the green. The track team helps coordinate the start. The football team holds the ropes at the start...at least until the first resistance, and then the kids always drop those ropes in a hurry. My wife was helping to hold the ropes last year and the kids dropped theirs and she tried to hang on. She wound up in the race for a while before she could get out of it."