Students from Dix Street Elementary School prepare for the start of the City Championship cross country race. (Photo by Jason Wesseldyk)
By Jason Wesseldyk
For the second year in a row, Otsego Public Schools hosted the City Championship cross country meet for the district’s three elementary schools.
The meet—which took place on Wednesday, Sept. 20—saw a significant increase in participation compared to the inaugural race.
How significant, you ask? Approximately 50 percent, as a total of 134 students took part in the meet compared to 89 last year.
Otsego High School cross country coach Steve Long couldn’t have been happier with the turnout.
“This year was 2.0 and we took all the cool stuff that we did last year and made it a little better,” he said. “And we’ll continue to improve in subsequent years.
“Our coaches are awesome and really get the kids excited about running. Seeing all the parents and grandparents and teachers out there was awesome.”
Current members of the Otsego high school and middle school teams were also on hand to support and encourage the elementary students.
“I’m really proud of the fact that the Otsego cross country program is over 200 strong now from third grade through 12th grade,” Long said. “Successes at the elementary level are shared successes and the middle schoolers and high schoolers are excited about what they see coming up.
“And I hope that when we have success at the middle school and high school levels, the elementary kids get excited about having the opportunity to be a part of that someday.”
Each participant received a T-shirt, water bottle and snacks. The top 20 boys and the top 20 girls also received medals.
Individual winners were Washington Street Elementary’s Reid Richie on the boys side and Alamo Elementary’s Amelia Klimp on the girls side.
In the team competition, Washington Street Elementary claimed top honors in both the boys and girls races.
“It was just an amazing event,” Long said. “And I hope our community realizes how much time and energy and passion is put into our Otsego cross country program by so many people.
“The kids buy in and work hard. The coaches are so awesome. Our administration supports this. Our transportation department supports this. So many people support us. We are truly an awesome distance-running community.”
To that end, Long hopes many of the elementary participants continue to incorporate running into their lives, regardless of if they ever run on the middle school or high school cross country teams.
“Obviously, a big part of the reason that I started elementary cross country was to help our middle school and high school teams grow,” Long said. “But I know a lot of these kids will never run cross country as they get older.
“But distance running is a sport that is a lifetime sport. If we can help build a love for the sport and the kids are smiling and having fun, then it’s a success.”
And a big part of that success are Dix Street Elementary physical education teacher Darcy Bentley, Washington Street Elementary physical education teacher Amy Nieuwenhuis and elementary health teacher Lori Bronkema.
“All of our coaches have been instrumental in getting this program off the ground, but a huge shout out to Amy, Darcy and Lori,” Long said. “They helped us out at the summer OXC camps and have really put a ton of time into helping to make this program such a success.”
Erin Jager and some other parents have stepped up to help with the program at Alamo.
“We’re super thankful for them as well,” Long said.
The City Championship was the first of two races for the elementary cross country program. The participants will also run in the Pups race at the annual Bulldog Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 30.