NEW CARLISLE — Back when they were in sixth grade, they were called "The Three Stooges" by middle school cross country coach Jeff Meinhard.
"They were inseparable back then," Meinhard said. "I guess they could really run, once they got proper coaching."
Six years later, the New Prairie senior trio of Tim O'Laughlin, Quinn Beall and Tom Wykoff remain close and still have a collective humor about them, advancing from their old nickname to "The Three Amigos."
"When we're training with these guys, they come up with the funniest stuff," Cougars coach John Arndt said.
Decent but not great runners in middle school, all have developed into key cogs for a New Prairie team that will run in the state finals today in Terre Haute.
O'Laughlin, who was fifth in the NP Semistate, leads the way, while Beall has consistently been the team's third runner and Wykoff its fourth. His 67th-place finish in the semistate was a key reason the Cougars were able to advance.
"He was ranked 120th in the semistate," Arndt said. "We have no shot at anything without that massive amount of unexpected points he got."
"It was our last race hurrah," Wykoff said. "I forget who made the comment, but in the warm-up before, they said, someone has to pop one if we're going to go. I was going up Agony (Hill), and I know I have to do something."
In their middle school days, Wykoff was actually the fastest of the group, despite joining the ranks last after first wrestling.
"They pushed me into it," he said.
Beall's progress was stunted by a burst appendix that cost him a middle school season. In and out of the hospital for several weeks, he was be treated for an infection, with drainage tubes attached to him, before finally being able to have the surgery some four months later. Beall was ahead of both of his friends as a freshmen, but began experiencing stomach problems again in June after his junior year. A CT scan revealed that the operation hadn't removed all of the appendix, which had become inflated.
"What are the chances it's going to get affected again?" Beall said. "I haven't really been injured otherwise."
Going through health issues like that gave Beall a different perspective, one that's enabled him to process adversity with a positive filter. The semistate, where the Cougars initially appeared to have lost out on a state berth by a tie-breaker, was a prime example.
"What's that after you're close to dying?" assistant coach David Dailey said. "I walked up to them, thinking how am I going to tell these guys? I walked away and they were handling it better than me. They said they took solace in being John's 'best' disappointment. That was the mindset Saturday. These three are sharp. They're super funny. They're going to be great men."
As their high school journey moved into their junior year, the low-key O'Laughlin's star ascended. He ascended to the No. 2 spot behind state qualifier Jacob Corbett.
"In track, if not for a stomach issue at the regional, he would've went to state and would've been on people's radars," Arndt said.
Slowed by a knee problem this season, O'Laughlin hit his stride at the right time, winning the sectional and regional. At this point, he's leaning toward not running in college, though he wouldn't completely rule it out if he continues to progress.
"He's a gamer. He's the best racer ever seen," Dailey said. "Tactically, I know I don't have to say anything to him about what to do. If he makes a move, I don't even have to watch the rest of the race. I know what he's going to do. He just keeps getting hungrier. A college coach could pick him up just for the chance."
The boys couldn't pen a better way to punctuate their time time together in cross country than to run at state.
"It's a great way to finish off high school," Wykoff said.
"It's a nice little memory we'll have before our lives start," Beall added.
While Wykoff and O'Laughlin presently plan to go to Purdue and Beall to Indiana, they know it will take more than going to rival colleges to separate them.
"We've been friends forever," Wykoff said. "We've made too many memories."
Cross Country State Finals
When: Today, noon
Where: Lavern Gibson Championship Course, Terre Haute