By Tracy Smith
On a Friday night when the Clarke County Eagles have a home game, Wilbur M. Feltner stadium fills with students, parents, and friends of the football team. Among the crowd is a small group of fans that knows that when the sun comes up the next day, they will be headed for their own competition. These are the student athletes who make up the Clarke County cross-country team.
They will be on the bus at 7am for an invitational cross-country meet. The bus arrives well before the start of the first race. The tent goes up; the tarp goes down. Unless there is thunder and lightning, the race goes on.
The runners walk the course, then warm-up and stretch. As the start time approaches, the running shoes get replaced with spikes, layers of clothing are shed and the mental preparation begins. The clock winds down and the teams take their places at the starting line. Runners and spectators are focused and listening for the sound that tells them to run. “Pop” goes the starting gun and they’re off —a blur of sights and sounds; legs pounding and loud cheers from the crowd.
Cross-country running is defined as open air running over natural terrain. For the next 3.2 miles these Clarke County Eagles will follow a course that may include grass and earth, hills and flat ground, as well as mud and gravel.
Cross-country is both physically demanding and mentally challenging. It is both an individual and team sport. Runners are judged on individual times and teams are awarded points based on the runner’s placement. Every bit of effort contributes to the team’s success.
At last, the final leg of the race. Fans flock to the finish line that brings runners to the end. As the runners come closer, the crowd goes wild. The competition is close and so tangible. The muscles flex, the sweat drips and grit that comes from deep inside erupts as a runner sprints toward the finish line. At this point, the Eagles are flying!
Under the guidance of Coach Jeff Webster, thirty-six students train six days a week beginning in August. Their season runs for 10 weeks with seven meets and three invitational races. Most years a runner or two from Clarke County will reach the state competition.
This year is different.
Yes, these cross-country Eagles are soaring. They have medals and trophies to prove they are enjoying a winning season.
More importantly, though, this team is running with a mission in mind and pink socks on their feet. The current group of student athletes ran in October to raise awareness for breast cancer.
The idea came from senior, Ian Dors, and his family. “We know lots of people who are affected by breast cancer, so we like to show our support when we can,” says Pam, Ian’s mother. Ian and his teammates also replaced their usual white headbands with pink ones.
“This is a terrific group of kids,” says Coach Webster. “Most people wouldn’t expect to see the runners sporting pink; but this October, that is one more thing that makes this year’s team unique.”
Cross-country is one of the few sports that is equally enjoyed by young women and men, and is open to anyone who wants to run. A student may join the team regardless of prior experience. And, with determination and hard work, runners improve.
Before you close the paper thinking cross-country is all sweat and strain, there’s another side to running with the Eagles that makes it worth the effort.
“This is my first year on the team,” says senior Mark Ulbrich. “It was hard work, but it was also fun. Coach Webster is the best coach I have ever had in any sport.”
The cross-country team meets for dinner before Saturday meets. This year they came together at the first Bluegrass concert to sell raffle tickets and help with concessions.
“I started running last year because I was new to Clarke County High School and I wanted to meet people,” explains sophomore Catherine Lewis. “We spend so much time together it’s hard not to make friends.”
The cross country team has completed its regular season. The post-season competition includes a conference tournament, a regional championship, and, hopefully, a state competition.
If you see a group of students running though Berryville next fall, you can be sure you’ve witnessed Eagles in flight!