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Gristmill: The Return of the ’Stache

Tue, 11/21/2023 - 18:17
On the podium at the N.C.A.A. Division III cross-country championships in Newville, Pa.: from left, James Settles, Colorado College, fourth place, Max Svienty, North Central, third, Christian Patzka, Wisconsin-Whitewater, second, and their mustaches.
Photo by Dakota Smith via The Stride Report

The North Central (Illinois) College men’s cross-country team, the Cardinals, cut quite the figure in their impossible-to-miss singlets of vertical red and white stripes, like refugees from the Ringling Brothers’ big top.

An equally noticeable fashion statement at Saturday’s N.C.A.A. Division III national championships, however, was worn on the face. The mustache is back.

Only occasionally thick and brush-like, à la Tom Selleck, more often struggling to fill out its patch of flesh yet still making its presence known, the scraggly accouterment was in no short supply among those coursing the rolling grounds of Big Spring High School in Newville, Pa., the home course of Dickinson College in nearby Carlisle and hard up against a whole mess of Cumberland County farmland.

Expansive playing fields gave onto lumpy tall grasses that gave onto tough hills leading into stands of woods and then back again. The course was twisting, its unusual hairpin turns offering any number of viewing spots for spectators, in this most aerobic of spectator sports.

From the starting gun, 294 runners took off en masse, the stampede gradually narrowing and drifting into a first left-hand turn and briefly disappearing from view. Eyed from ground level, and especially afterward from a drone as seen on the N.C.A.A. website feed, it looked like the great wildebeest migration of the Serengeti.

And then as this herd of the two-legged crossed and recrossed the plain, a galloping pack of fans — some face-painted and bare-chested, some carrying flags, others in costume — swarmed back and forth in pursuit.

It’s cool, in other words, this sport that was once the domain of the skinny and the unathletic, the brainy.

And now the ’stache is cool, too.

It’s possible there may be an attempt afoot to reclaim the ’stache from, say, Freddie Mercury. There was a time the poor guy had to put up with blokes and soccer hooligans tossing razor blades onto the stage when he performed. 

Otherwise, the Steve Prefontaine effect is undeniable, after the great and mustachioed University of Oregon distance runner who died in a car wreck in 1975, age 24. These things do catch on. A single movie, Gus Van Sant’s 1989 “Drugstore Cowboy,” set in the early 1970s in the Pacific Northwest with Matt Dillon in his leather car coat and Kelly Lynch in her go-go boots, seemingly influenced the look and culture of the entire decade of the ’90s.

But back to North Central, the boys did well; they made the podium, third place in the team score. Waiting for the awards ceremony in the Big Spring auditorium, they sat together in a row, each in a red beanie with its white pompom flopped forward onto the forehead just so.

And another effective statement is made.


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