Daily Inter Lake | April 26, 2022 12:00 AM
Hundreds of kindergarten through-eighth cross country runners and families descended on the Evergreen Junior High field for the first meet of the season on April 5.
Student-athletes from seven area schools lined up by grade level. Many jumped around to keep warm on the windy day. Early on in the competition, Sam Sussman, Smith Valley School P.E. teacher and cross country coach for kindergarten and first grade, stood by the starting line to give last-minute tips — and tie a few students’ shoelaces.
“OK guys, remember it’s a long race. You don’t have to go really fast; keep a pace you can go the whole time and save your energy for the kick at the end. You got it. Good luck,” Sussman said.
Then, Evergreen Junior. High Principal Kim Anderson got on a megaphone —
“Runners, on your mark, get set, go!”
The young students took off to run a half-mile, which will be the course for kindergarten through fourth grade. Grades fifth through eighth run a mile at competitions.
Sussman said the cross country program is exciting for elementary-age students to get experience participating in a large competition.
FAMILY MEMBERS, friends and staff were scattered around the course cheering on students and encouraging them to keep going. Eager parents and relatives surrounded the finish line where runners met their applause and cheers as they crossed it tired, winded and happy. Some were immediately hugged by friends and family, others dropped down to sit or lie on the cool grass and catch their breath.
“We’re ready to start the next group,” Mike Barton, Evergreen School District athletic director and assistant principal at Evergreen Junior High, said into a walkie-talkie to communicate with volunteers.
“Right now, we have seven schools here,” Barton said, noting that seven other rural schools are competing at another host school. “We rotate the teams at different venues so the kids can run against other teams.”
Back at the finish line, Evergreen sixth-grader Bridge Reed, rounded a corner drawing nearer to the end and picked up speed. Crossing the finish line, she bends down to catch her breath. Her sister Aubrey goes in for a hug.
“You did great,” Aubrey Reed said, patting her sister’s shoulders. “You went so fast.”
Bridget Reed said she joined cross country to have fun with her friends.
“It’s painful, but I do like running,” Bridget Reed said. “Just knowing I can be outside.”
She said her tactic during a race is to maintain a medium pace throughout and “Sprint when I get really close to the finish line.”
RIBBONS ARE awarded for first through 10th place, although that’s not the primary goal, particularly for the elementary students, where participation is more of a priority. Barton said there’s plenty of time for students to be competitive at the junior high to high school levels.
“I feel participation-wise it gets kids living a healthy lifestyle, really getting out and running,” he said. “Where some kids feel uncomfortable if they’re not great at shooting a basketball, or throwing a football, [in] cross country it doesn’t matter if you’re super fast, or you’re not that fast at all, you can still participate.”
With many sports at the junior high level, this is the only sport for elementary students.
Evergreen School District Superintendent Laurie Barron said the cross country program started in 2015 as a result of a student’s suggestion in 2014. Each spring, fourth-graders and eighth-graders present ideas for improving the district at a student-led school board meeting. The students who get to present are voted on by their peers who all write letters to the board as part of a persuasive writing English assignment.
“One of the ideas from the eighth-grade group was that we don’t have a spring sport. We need cross country. They researched who participated in the valley and the next year we started cross country,” Barron said. “We started with grades fifth through eighth and added grades all the way down to kindergarten over a three-year span.”
The Hardmans, which includes Evergreen seventh-grader Kyler and Evergreen fourth-grader Carter have been longtime runners and are grateful to have a spring sport said mother Melissa Hardman. Kyler Hardman placed sixth in his age group and Carter, second place.
“Running is something you can do your whole life and participate in,” Melissa Hardman said. “You can keep going on past school. So we do summer 5Ks. I think it keeps them active and keeps them involved,” she said.
The final competition of the season is a two-day meet scheduled for May 10 and May 12.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 406-758-4431 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.