Michael Lakey finished his first Hancock Invitational with a flourish.
He fell face first into the dirt.
The finish line of a cross country race is not an ideal place to sprawl out and catch your breath. At a massive invitational like Hancock's it's a hazard. As big packs of competitors empty the tank to clock their best times there is bumping, colliding and stepping on those around them.
Lakey had no such concerns. No one else remained on the course at Jefferson Barracks.
In its 53rd year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Scholar Athlete program honors one student from every area school, a requirement being that they…
“The first time he ran there he finished dead last,” said Tim Lakey, Michael's father.
A freshman at the time, Lakey didn't join the Metro cross country team because he loved running. Truth be told he loathed it. But Lakey planned on playing basketball for the Panthers that winter. One of the seniors told him a good way to get fit for hoops was to run cross country in the fall.
So he did.
“I kind of willed myself through every cross county season to be honest,” Lakey said. “I kept pushing, I kept pushing and I got myself through four years. I was usually in decent shape when basketball season started.”
Now a senior, Lakey is in the final days of his athletics career. One that he has enjoyed for any number of reasons — glory not among them. Metro's Post-Dispatch Scholar Athlete, Lakey set a personal record on the cross country course in his final race when he finished in 22 minutes, 30 seconds. The basketball team won more games than it lost once in his four years and every season ended in the first round of the district tournament. Baseball has managed to win a district tournament game here and there only to be eliminated by either Lutheran North or Trinity. The Panthers have scored a combined one run in three games against those teams the past three seasons.
“I knew we weren't going to win a whole lot of games,” Lakey said. “I had a great time. I've always had a great time playing any sport.”
Baseball has long been Lakey's favorite. A utility-man on the diamond, Lakey is a two-time all-conference selection and has a shot at being named the Public High League player of the year this spring. He's batting .571 with 13 runs scored and 13 runs batted in. On the mound, the 6-foot right-hander has a 3-1 record, a 3.34 earned run average and 24 strikeouts over 14.7 innings pitched.
He's also 30 for 30.
Lakey and his father have seen a game in all 30 major league baseball stadiums. What started as a Father's Day wish turned into a seven-year adventure as Tim and his son crisscrossed the country checking stadiums off their list.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” Tim said. “We pretty much have a story for every stadium.”
Like the time they were in Oakland and while standing outside asking for two tickets they were gifted a pair that put them right behind home plate. They saw the 2011 All-Star game in Phoenix much the same way. They were in the front row and on national television when the camera crew featured their section as part of the Stand Up To Cancer initiative. There was the day-night doubleheader in Los Angeles where they saw the Dodgers in the afternoon and the Angels in the evening.
The objective was to make lifelong memories and have a great time. Only it turned into more than that. Lakey and Tim drove to every ball park over the seven years. The road trips were epic — and long. The then-young Lakey grew bored one day, picked up the atlas in the car and started studying it. Before long he had a handle on how to get wherever they were going.
“Eventually I got to know the maps pretty well,” Lakey said. “So I'd start navigating.”
Lakey never steered his father wrong and, in the process, became fascinated by maps. If Lakey achieves the vision he has for his future, he'll help change the map of St. Louis.
Of all the teams Lakey has competed on at Metro, the most successful had nothing to do with sports. It involved urban planning. Lakey and four classmates were tabbed the winners of NorthSide Regeneration's Project Design Challenge. Sponsored by developer Paul McKee Jr., the contest asked teams of students from St. Louis City high schools to design an interactive urban park across the street from the site of the new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency on Cass Ave.
During the months of research and preparation, Lakey realized he could use his love of maps to help re-imagine his city. Lakey volunteered for Claire McCaskill's senate campaign last summer. He knocked on doors on the north side, south side and everything in between.
“I loved going to these neighborhoods because I got to see all these beautiful houses,” Lakey said. “It was an awesome experience to do that. It really kind of opened my eyes to different places in the city I didn't get to go to very often.”
Lakey was inspired by what he saw. It gave him a passion to pursue when he begins at Truman State University in the fall.
“I think I want to be an urban planner in the city because I feel I could do something with that,” Lakey said. “There could be something there I could try to help the city.”
The only thing that Lakey likes more than baseball is his home town. Lakey, Tim and Christine, Lakey's mother, live in Tim's childhood home in Dogtown. One of nine children, Tim spent two years at St. Louis U. High before enrolling at a new, cutting edge school – Metro. At the time Metro was applying new learning concepts to its students. The zoo and planetarium were classrooms. Metro's student identification cards included a note to truancy officers that students were expected to be out and about during the day.
“It was a school without walls,” Tim said.
The Metro that Tim graduated from in 1977 and the one his son will graduate from in a few weeks are very different. But both fostered academic curiosity. Tim has two masters degrees and made several career changes before finding the right fit. He's currently a marketing teacher at McCluer High.
Lakey has relished Metro's unique approach to education. It's one of two schools in the area that offer International Baccalaureate certified classes. Lindbergh is the other. IB classes are similar to advanced placement courses but are recognized internationally.
“It's centered around discussion-based learning and the students interacting with each other,” Lakey said.
Lakey's interactions with his classmates have helped shape his perspective of the world. Metro's student body is as diverse as the city with its melting pot of refugees and immigrants. Lakey has friends with roots in Iraq, Vietnam and Honduras.
To showcase students' heritage, Metro hosts an international festival in its gym every year. It's a highlight for Lakey.
“They talk about their cultures and bring in food,” Lakey said. “It's a big celebration. I've learned so much.”
Lakey did not find athletic glory at Metro. Instead he's become a well-rounded student of the world. One who will graduate this spring with aspirations of changing and shaping it for the better.
“I love Metro. It's really been an awesome experience,” Lakey said. “The diversity and the different types of people I get to meet and the different types of things I'm exposed to, you don't get that at a lot of other high schools.”