It was only a suggestion, not a directive, but Roger Evans should have known better.
The 22-year Simi Valley High girls track and field coach approached Sarah Baxter -- his sophomore and the nation's finest 3,200-meter runner -- before last week's Southern Section Masters Championships at Cerritos College and broached the idea of her concentrating not on winning, but rather on qualifying for this weekend's CIF State Championships in Clovis.
"My preference was for Sarah to run just to qualify," Evans says. "Usually you don't have two races of your life on back-to-back weekends, so I just wanted to present the idea. But that's not her personality, and I knew that. She gave me a look, 'Look, you idiot, I run to win.' "
So Baxter won in 10 minutes, 8.71 seconds -- just off her nation-leading mark of 10:08.11, while crushing the second-ranked eight-lapper in the land, Marina-Huntington Beach's Laura Hollander, by 9 seconds.
An hour earlier, at the same cold and windy site, Harvard/Westlake-Studio City's Amy Weissenbach toasted the 800 in 2:05.55 -- No. 1 in the state and No. 3 nationally for the season.
She, too, eschewed the thought of merely advancing to the state meet one year after setting a National Federation of State High School Associations all-time record of 2:02.04 while winning the 800 at Buchanan's Veterans Memorial Stadium for a second straight time.
"Her good-natured approach -- a warm and friendly demeanor -- belies how extraordinarily competitive she is," Harvard/Westlake coach Jonas Koolsbergen says.
The talent, determination and standards of Baxter and Weissenbach speak well for girls track and field on the 40-year anniversary of Title IX in the U.S.
"Girls once ran for recreation and to have fun," Koolsbergen says. "Now it's OK for girls to make a decision to embrace trying really hard and attempting to be really good; it's OK for making being excellent a major goal. Yes, have fun, but also be super good at it."
Signed into law by President Richard Nixon as part of the Education Amendments Act of June 1972, Title IX was designed to increase opportunities for women while prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex for all educational programs or activities that receive federal funding.
Title IX does not mention athletics, but it's been most closely associated with gender equity in sports.
And no female sport in the country is growing faster than track and field and cross country.
Take, for example, the bell-cow state -- California.
More girls (44,625) compete in track and field than in any other sport in the state. And that's a 50% increase from 1998 (29,682), according to Ron Nocetti, senior director for the California Interscholastic Federation -- the governing body for prep sports in the state.
He says girls' participation in track and field from 2009 to 2011 increased by 6.9%, exceeded only by cross country (8%).
This is not to suggest boys have left their spikes in the locker.
The state's boys' participation increase in track and field in recent years, at 12.1%, has soared even higher than the girls. And only football involves more boys than track and field in the state.
That said, California girls have become the superior gender in track and field -- this year, at least, in regard to national rankings.
Entering today's state-meet preliminaries, there are 38 girls ranked among the nation's top 10, compared with 20 boys; there are 14 girls among the top three, compared with two boys; and there are two top-ranked girls, compared to zero boys.