As the sun beat down on the runners at the starting line of last weekend's Firebird Invitational at Fremont High in Sunnyvale, a Viking mascot pranced in front of the crowd, drawing smiles from the competitors before they took off for a 2.1-mile race in the blistering heat.
The mascot was not a spirited student but Lynbrook cross-country coach Hank Lawson, who uses costumes at early-season races to ease the tension for his runners.
``At the beginning of the year, all the kids wonder what I'll show up to the race as,'' Lawson said. ``I've come as a greaser, a rapper and a Hawaiian tourist. I don't want to get too serious until the league finals; everything else is really just practice until then.''
But Lawson is known around the Central Coast Section for much more than his sense of humor. The 1973 graduate of Gunn High School has given back to running through his coaching and with his Web site, a popular bookmark for coaches, competitors, journalists and fans of CCS cross-country and track and field.
The Web site (www.lhs. fuhsd.org/athletics) includes high school race results, schedules, links to newspaper articles, rankings and records dating to the 1950s.
``The Web site is my baby. I spend a lot of time on it,'' said Lawson, an off-campus coach who says he is semi-retired from Hewlett-Packard. ``It goes back to when the Central Coast Section was created in the mid-1960s and beyond.''
Lawson says one of the most rewarding things about the site is the response he gets from students. Recently one did research on the site and found a time his father had run in the 1950s.
``The father had been sick, and seeing that result lifted his spirits,'' Lawson said. ``That makes a difference, and that's my goal with the Web site.''
Lawson was a standout distance runner at Gunn High in Palo Alto. After a short stint at UCLA, he attended De Anza College and later ran at San Diego State University. He was the No. 7 runner on the Aztecs' cross-country team, which finished eighth in the nation in 1976.
At 48, Lawson, still in great running shape, organizes a group of Santa Clara Valley Athletic League coaches that competes in corporate track meets.
His best 10K time this year is 36:30, and he was a bit miffed at his best time this year in the mile, 5:08. ``It was the first time since the ninth grade that I didn't break five minutes,'' Lawson said.
This weekend, Lawson is taking Lynbrook to a meet in Hawaii. The seven boys and seven girls competing leave this morning. The boys team is led by senior Eugene Berson and junior Luis Jensen. The girls team, coached by Stephanie Bambury, has a standout freshman in MayC Huang and a strong senior, Aya Wakabayashi.
When the big meets come at the end of the season, the tall and trim Lawson is there, helping out any way he can. Fellow coaches admire his dedication and appreciate his Web site. Some call him the biggest promoter of running in the Bay Area.
``I think he's even more than that,'' said longtime Bellarmine cross-country coach and athletic director Terry Ward. ``Kids go to his Web site to see how they compare to the best runners, and he's amazingly accurate. It's almost like a scouting tool. And he's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.''