Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Spartans Rock the House!

Early Saturday morning, it was still raining! Who knew it could rain for 10 days straight in September! The rain soaked the ground, but it did not dampen the spirits of the runners or the competitive atmosphere of the morning.

By 7:45, the entire front lawn of Saltillo High School was covered with canopy tents and abuzz with parents seeking shelter, runners preparing for races, and coaches giving last minute instructions. As we walked parts of the course, I could see the new runners marveling at the difference between a cross country meet and a local 5K. The most obvious difference at that moment was the course.

Cross country courses are run on trails and grass, through hill and dale. They are also run rain or shine. Wet or dry. Mud or decent footing. The course at Saltillo is difficult, even on a dry day. There is one hill in particular.... what it lacks in length, it makes up for in incline!

We scoped out the course, got our racing tags pinned on shirts, and went back under the tent. Actually, I should mention that there were 3 tents! We have grown over the last few years! Smiling, I quickly made note of the difference in our tent and others... Our girls had knitting needles poking out of their bags rather than I-Pod cords! I love this group of kids!

The coaches gathered for last minute instructions. Coach Covington went over the usual details, "Make sure the pin is not in the hole that says 'do not pin here', tell the runners someone will take the tag off at the finish line, and, oh yes, we will only delay if lightning is striking in the immediate vicinity... but even then we will not stop any races in progress!"

As an aside... The Saltillo cross country coach, Charles Covington has been more than willing to work with home schoolers... Other coaches have been much more accepting because of his example. We are thankful to him for this and for his Christian example in the public school system!

After the coaches meeting, I ran back to the tent to gather the JV girls. We paused for the national anthem, sung by chorus members huddled under an awning, and then we headed down into the mud pit... I mean starting area.

It was time for it all to begin. Coach Covington gave starting instructions to the girls and backed into the field with his arms raised. I noticed that the girls' shoes were already soggy, and their legs brown with mud spatters! The gun went up. (Actually, he didn't use his gun... just raised his arms.) "Runners Set!" Coaches prepared their stopwatches. "Go," as he threw down his arms and hurried out of their way. Crowds gathered along the course began to cheer as the mass of JV girls herded after the lead four wheeler. Coaches scattered around the course to places they had chosen for "encouraging" their runners.

(Some say that my "encouraging" sounds a whole lot like yelling... Maybe so, but they know that I love them! I prefer to think that on race day, I encourage loudly and with vehemence!)

By the time the runners reached the hill, they were covered in mud. Several runners had a difficult time even making it up the hill! One girl from Oxford gave me her mud covered glasses, because she had fallen and could no longer see through them!
Hannah Stegall finishing the first race!

Our JV girls finished well. For many of them, it was their first cross country race... talk about baptism by fire!

JV boys were next. Same routine. Meet at the starting line for instructions... (this time it was a little bit muddier)...they're off! They did a fine job as well. I told all groups not to even look at times, due to the course conditions. This race was to be all about guts and survival...
Landers finishing the JV boys race- Landers is one to watch for next year!

I was pretty pumped up... it was the kind of day that cross country runners live for! At the starting line, you could tell which coaches had been runners in the past... we were the ones LOVING it and wishing we were out there running!
Getting ready to start 1A-3A girls

Following the JV race was the 1A-3A Varsity Girls' race (smaller school division). Inwardly, I rubbed my hands together and gave a "mwahh-haa-ha...." There are a few coaches in this small division who are pretty competitive with each other, and we have been for years! I had been looking forward to this moment all week. These girls have been working SO hard, becoming a team, and setting the standard for all of our younger and new runners. It was time for them to lay it out on the table.

The girls were staying loose, trying to calm their nerves, and waiting on the start. I backed up to wait and noticed that they were all standing ankle deep in mud. AT THE START! There is nothing like running an entire cross country race with soaking wet shoes and socks! Blisters would be a major casualty, I was afraid.

The race began, and my girls were looking strong as they went into the woods. Danielle slipped on the hill, and Julie moved ahead. Olivia, Catherine, and Martha were fairly close together. Mary, Courtney, and Emilee were hanging in there, "movin' on up!"
Look at Emilee's hand and knee! That's workin hard, for ya!

At the finish, it was all clear. The girls had done their best and would be rewarded for their hard work. Five Spartans finished in the top 11!! The team had worked together as a pack and done FABULOUS! If we could have counted as a team (MHSAA guidelines prevent us from doing so), we would have won the meet, 34 to 61. In addition, if the girls had entered the large school division, we would have placed second behind Pontotoc! (Pontotoc is the NE MS powerhouse... they have shirts that say, "We run this town!")
Varsity girls- Champions!

The 4A-6A girls ran, and then it was time for 1A-3A varsity boys. By this time, the course could hardly be called that. No exaggerating... you really couldn't see the exact starting line or starting boxes anymore. People were losing shoes just walking across the field! The varsity boys were off... They did a great job as well. Everyone made the same type remark: "I felt like I was trying, but my legs just weren't going anywhere!" The boys had a very respectable finish, and I expect that they will continue to improve through the season.
Start of Varsity boys and Marshall finishing the race

During the course of the morning, people wanted to know, "Who are the Spartans?" and "You aren't running at state, are you?" It got to be pretty funny! There is definitely strength in numbers!
Muddy varsity girl legs!

I think that there are now many new fans of cross country. Many didn't realize how much "team" comes into play in the sport of running. It is primarily an individual sport, but "WE can achieve more than ME," or so the t-shirt says! There is also something to be said for a sport where everyone cheers for everyone... even rivals, and where athletes become friends across team boundaries! There is one common foe to be defeated: not necessarily another team, but the course and previous personal time records. This bond brings runners together and gives them a connection that is lacking in other team sports.
varsity boys at the awards ceremony

Ok, I am getting cheesy now... time to quit.... I am so proud of the Spartans... GREAT JOB, EVERYONE! Thanks for working hard, and thanks for being such a wonderful group of kids!


Kim said...

And thanks to you, Heather, for being such a wonderful coach and for providing this opportunity for our kids. We love you!

Virginia said...

Look at the guns on Katherine Snyder! Are you weight training those kids as well? :-)

Thanks for all your hard work, Heather!

Roan said...

(this is Olivia, not Roan) AND THANKS TO A GREAT COACH!!!!!!! YOU ARE AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!WE LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Matt said...

Reading your post makes me want to run!I have to say back in my day, which was a long time ago now, my favorite cross country meets were when we ran in the rain! I actually had my best time running in the rain, my senior year at Steeplechase in Nashville. Great post!