A Few Thoughts on Middle School Cross Country


Jay Wallace, 


The Leon County middle school cross country season is a mere four meets in the hot month of September. Like so many things in a busy school year, it seems to come and go in a blur. I want to freeze that blur sometimes; fix the memory of all those earnest faces and still-developing running form. This feeling of oxygen debt and burning muscles is new to them. Some will relish the competition and learn to push through it. Some will rather enjoy the social nature of it and finish with a smile and a wave. Parents get to enjoy a short mid-week break to socialize and maybe capture some video of their kids while cheering them all on. Some of us get a little demonstrative at times, but this isn’t football. It is most importantly a time to recognize these kids for getting out there and competing while mutually encouraging each other. I think the kids as well as the parents get that balance just right. After the race, all the athletes gather to share a popsicle, chatter a while and pose for pictures for their parents. It is a time free from televisions and electronic devices, just enjoying each others’ company in the name of this great sport. I have enjoyed 5 such Septembers and will relish the memories.

It is good to pinch ourselves sometimes, as many locales don’t even have a middle school cross country program. It has worked in Leon County for many years because of coaches who work for a pittance because they love it. It works because parents drive their kids to the meets so the schools can save money on the buses. It works because many volunteers work long hours to set up courses in sometimes challenging spaces. It works because Gulf Winds Track Club is in Leon County. There are too many names to mention, but a few are in order. Bill McGuire has tirelessly worked to direct the Gretchen Everhart Owl Run (which most students’ enthusiastically say is their favorite) for at least 20 years and Ray Hanlon has been there at dawn to set up the course markings and provide other needed coordination for nearly as long. Ray also works the finish line at a couple other meets. Speaking of finish lines, yes, Bill Lott is there at every one. Fred Deckert is there at Gretchen to take tons of finishing pictures so we parents don’t have to. Bill McGuire doesn’t stop with his meet either. He rides the lead bicycle at all the other races as well. This can sometimes be a challenge if the grass is thick, the hills are steep, or a trail is narrow. He just does it and goes home. “Who is that guy?” some parents may ask. I gladly fill them in.

There are two individuals who require special mention. Chris Sumner has stepped up to provide timing services at every meet the last few years. By the time we get home, complete results are posted on the flrunners web site. And Herb Wills. Talk about pinching ourselves. I challenge you to find anywhere in the nation where a guy can so seriously dedicate himself (voluntarily, of course) to providing a photographic chronicle of key points in each middle school race. And the photos are just the beginning. As he does with so many road races, he provides a vivid description of how the race went down among the leaders. I have read several articles on flrunners about high school and college races, and his middle school documentation is every bit as good if not better. And it is all archived on a blog. Thanks for helping me freeze those memories.