“Don’t those guys realize they don’t count?” These words were allegedly overheard from the mouth of a rival coach at a recent meet in Knoxville. Can you blame him? He probably wasn’t alone. As 19 Dutch boys JV runners stream through the finish line in close succession, there probably was a lot of puzzled looks. One after another they came. All of the first 19 in the race were Dutch runners. It wouldn’t stop there. Out of the top 40 runners 30 were from the Pella High JV team. While I can’t verify the rival coach spoke these words, they do give us an opportunity to reflect on what separates Pella High Cross Country from so many other programs.

The answer to the coach’s question is simple. They DO count. The numbers don’t lie. Why else would 103 kids show up to run in a race where only 7 runners score? Because they realize they DO count. No, they might not count in the team score. They might not count as pushers. They might even seem insignificant to those people who believe the only thing that counts in running is winning the race. However, they count to their teammates and coaches. They count to their parents. They count to themselves.

The numbers don’t lie. Year after year since Coach Cutler & Coach Hammann took over in 2005 the numeric growth has been on a meteoric rise. The addition of Coach Buchheit in 2011 has only helped in making those athletes understand they DO count. In 2005 the roster count was 23, 12 boys and 11 girls. The following years the roster counts came in at:

  • 2006 – 20 boys & 24 girls, 44 total
  • 2007 – 29 boys & 24 girls, 53 total
  • 2008 – 28 boys & 28 girls, 56 total
  • 2009 – 45 boys & 30 girls, 75 total
  • 2010 – 53 boys & 35 girls, 88 total
  • 2011 – 63 boys & 40 girls, 103 total
  • 2012 – 73 boys & 50 girls, 123 total *as of 8/14/12

Keep in mind these numbers are coming from as school district of approximately 700 students. That is staggering. This is one of the largest sports teams in the school and coached by one of the smallest coaching staffs. So is it possible to count on a team of 103 runners?

http://pellacrosscountry.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/austin4357.jpg[/fusion_image] Don’t tell Austin Davis he doesn’t count! During the ’09 season Austin was typically a 20:30 5k runner. Nothing stellar about that. In fact, it was fairly far off from the varsity letter cut-off time of 18:30. Austin could have easily decided to pack it in at that point. He could have given up. And yet through the last few years Austin has pushed himself. And with the encouragement of his coaches has continued to improve. Week by week he has been closing in on the 18:30 mark. Austin knew it was a goal he could achieve. He became so focused he even asked Coach Hammann for a pair of spikes to run the Knoxville race in so he could run just a bit faster. Austin finished in a startling 18:07! 18:07 would be a varsity spot on many teams in the Little Hawkeye Conference. Don’t tell Austin he doesn’t count.

Don’t tell Madeline Meyer she doesn’t count. She will refute that claim passionately. “We have 103 athletes but all 103 work hard everyday. That is what Coach Cutler has built this team around. I really respect that. Everyone matters. You don’t get that in every sport.” Said Madeline in a recent interview with KNIAKRLS.com. Madeline would be a rarity on many cross country teams but at Pella her situation is becoming common. She is a first year runner but a senior. She came over to cross country from volleyball. Pella cross country experiences many first year juniors and seniors who have come over from another sport. The challenge, of course, is as a first year runner it is much more difficult to catch up with those students who have been running for several years. Madeline has accepted this challenge and has worked her way into a varsity position. With the encouragement of other teammates and the buy-in to the Pella Cross Country program philosophy she has taken what seems like an almost impossible situation and made it successful. Don’t tell Madeline she doesn’t count.

http://pellacrosscountry.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/meyer4356.jpg[/fusion_image]That is just two examples. There are literally 100 more stories of individuals who count on the Pella High Cross Country team.

Self-fulfilling prophecies can be a real phenomenon. So if the mindset is that only seven runners count it’s likely that a team will not grow much beyond that. However, the philosophy within the Pella Cross Country team hits at the very core of what youth want…to count. If every team in the Little Hawkeye conference, or every team in the state for that matter, took that same approach a lot more kids would participate. Maybe every team would experience numbers like Pella Cross Country. But it’s more than just numbers, there is an ingredient that is intangible. It’s difficult to describe. It starts with Cutler, Hammann, and Buchheit and carries over to the leaders and on down to the new runners. The attraction is in the relationships. Relationships that let you know you count.

So next time you are at a cross country meet and you overhear a statement similar to “Don’t they know they don’t count.” Smile to yourself, cheer your loudest and don’t be surprised to see 100+ runners in green uniforms finish with smiles on their face because they KNOW they count.

*Update 8/14/2012

Since the publishing of this article things have continued to grow. New this season is the addition of Kari Pingle to the coaching staff. The team went on to win the Boys 2011 3A championships while the Girls finished 3rd. Early number come in at 123 athletes at the high school. The middle school sign ups as of spring 2012 were well over 65 runner. The future looks bright.