Take 10 unassuming athletes, add an untiring and resolute coach, and you have the ingredients of one spirited and determined boys cross country team at Camden High School. For the first time in the school’s history, the Region 6-AAA trophy will take up residence in her trophy case. Head Coach Jerry Stokes shares in the team’s victory with his accolade of conference coach of the year. Coach Stokes trains, you could say, with old school ideology. He encourages his runners at a distance, giving them the space needed to develop their own style, though nearby to provide the team his infused understanding of the sport essential for their success. Coach Stokes has high expectations for his team and wants the kids to be successful for both themselves and the school. He believes in his runners. In fact, with their plethora of agility and perseverance at the recent 3-A Lower State meet in Columbia, the boy’s team has earned a spot in the 3-A State meet this weekend. There’s not a past CHS cross country team that can even come close to their astonishing record this year.
Both boys and girls cross country teams at Camden High were recharged about 6 years ago, just to drop out of sight shortly thereafter. Then two years ago, both teams took on new life once again with the arrival of head coaches, Pam Chickering and Jerry Stokes. Both are devoted, optimistic trainers with great expectations for their runners. Merge these coaches with their athletes’ commitment and thirst to win brings both teams intangible awards -- successful seasons, 4 Region All-Star titles, and a trip to State. Honors that earlier seemed too remote to grab hold of.
Though, in hindsight, the first places or the bestowable titles or the shiny hardware in the trophy case do not carry the most weight. Make no mistake, they are important and motivating effects to all dedicated to the program, but we can’t forget to acknowledge what lies beneath the luster. It is the challenge; it is the spark; it is the attitude. It’s what fuels the runner. It resides in their guts. It is an integral part of the competitor, an unteachable component. These young runners have a spirit that transforms their will to be the best into winning. This human spirit is indomitable. They practice believing in themselves and, in turn, their practice results in the conviction. They reach for inner strength. With every milestone, with every second shaved off their times, these boys and girls see there is a way with a steadfast will. Running teaches them the challenge and the challenge is hard. The sport teaches them to push beyond where they thought they could go. It helps them to see what they’re made of. They learn this outer limit is where they have to go to win. Running is a catalyst for self-achievement and sets up the confidence necessary to cope with winning and defeat. Running builds character and self-discipline in these young athletes.
As I have watched these cross country teams over the course of the season, I have been amazed at their perseverance to reach their goals, their personal bests. Every meet, every time, every second, they would build on the week before. And build they did. 30:27, 29:38, 28:34, 27:13, 24:57, 24:45 -- an almost six-minute difference from the start of the season to the end for one runner from the boys team. To do this takes pure determination and will. And 23:01 to 18:52, an almost five-minute difference. Again, DETERMINATION. And with this self –determination appears a tenacious bond among the runners. They run for themselves; they run for their teammates; they run for their coach; they run for Camden High School. They strive. They push. They believe. They achieve.
Running is a wonderful metaphor for life. What you put in is what you’ll get out. “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” (Steve Prefontaine.) These cross country runners are determined to turn their will, their guts in to triumph, and they deliver with pride and conviction. It goes far beyond the awards. It’s what lies beneath the luster. Be proud, Bulldogs. Long may you run.