Greene County cross-country sees massive growth

The Greene County cross-country team, comprised of runners from both Carson Middle School and Greene County High School, poses with co-head coaches Adam Bradley (left, bottom) and Mike Smith (right, bottom) for a team picture.

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard

justin@lakeoconeenews.us

 

If you have driven through the streets of Greensboro over the past few months and noticed packs of kids running in the afternoon, then you’ve seen the Greene County cross-country team on full display.

In total, the team features about 80 middle and high school students on its roster, all coming from Union Point STEAM Academy, Carson Middle School and Greene County High School. That’s quite a big jump in roster size compared to last year’s team, which included only six runners.

Mike Smith is one of the team’s co-head coaches. Smith teaches physical science at UPSA. Adam Bradley, who works at Greene County High School, is the other co-head coach.

Smith said he was disheartened when the duo first took over the program but words of encouragement from Bradley proved true.

“When we started in summer conditioning, we had six or seven,” Smith said. “I was a little discouraged, but coach Bradley kept saying, 'Wait till school starts,' and then the numbers kept growing and growing. We have students that have joined the team this week. They've come in and said, 'Hey, we hear you have great things going on and we want to be a part of it.' We take in everybody.”

Bradley previously worked at GCHS before his current tenure at the school. He was the school’s cross-country coach back then, too.

When this year’s team began competing together, it was clear to Bradley there was a big difference between the first cross-country team he coached at Greene and this year’s team.

“That team, they made it easier on me,” Bradley said of his former squad. “Most of them were friends and they pushed each other. This year, we have more of a variety of students. Some of them didn't know each other when they came in. I think the first year that I coached, they did a lot of the teamwork stuff before I even was in the picture whereas this year we've kind of forged those relationships.”

That “variety of students” is a unique one.

Smith was originally brought in to coach the middle school cross-country program and Bradley would coach the high schoolers. Shortly after starting summer conditioning, the decision was made to combine the two teams.

Smith said there are now plans to further expand the program.

“It started out with middle school and then it just kind of evolved to coach Bradley and I doing the whole thing, taking the high school and middle school,” he said. “Next year, we're even gonna implement an elementary level, just because it has taken off.”

Combining the two programs has certainly worked, but it presented a unique challenge to Bradley in the beginning.

“It's different dealing with the younger kids,” Bradley said. “I have to kind of have a different approach to teaching younger kids to learn to love to run. I was a little bit nervous at first but now that's kind of the backbone of the future of the team. A lot of them, next year or in two years, will be running for varsity, and they'll have a good foundation.”

In addition to building up the program for the future, Smith said he hopes to help his runners improve their grades, too. He said he’s seen it happen at a school where he previously coached.

“When I coached at Archer in Gwinnett, I just noticed early on that the kids that ran cross-country and ran distance, their grades improved over those that didn't,” Smith said. “Once they came into the program, their grades started getting better and better, and I think that's something about the discipline of having to run distance – it just rolls over into your academic work as well.”

So far, Smith said he’s been impressed by his runners’ work.

“With it being the first year, I think we've done really well,” he said. “We placed at our last meet, we got second place in high school boys and girls. ... The middle school got third at a huge, huge meet in Conyers where they had 37 schools represented. One of our ninth-graders, Leo Lopez, has gotten first place several times in meets. We're doing really well.”

With the cross-country team’s rapid growth, though, comes a big challenge: providing uniforms for the runners. The school provided funding for uniforms at the beginning of the year but that funding was based on last year’s much smaller team.

Smith said the team has competed in random clothing but, more recently, he provided T-shirts. Still, the need for a full team uniform exists.

Through DonorsChoose.Org, Smith set up an account to allow anyone to donate money for cross-country uniforms. The primary need, Smith said, is shorts.

As of Tuesday morning, the fundraiser had raised $1,685 – more than half Smith’s goal of $2,815. The team still needs more than $1,100 to reach that goal, and the team’s page will expire Oct. 21.

Since launching the webpage, Smith said he’s seen donations pour in from all over.

“The community has been really strong in supporting us,” Smith said. “We've had donors from Washington state, had a lady from New York who had no idea who we were and she donated us $350 the other day because she liked what we had to say and what we were trying to do to help these kids, both physically and academically.”

Acquiring official uniforms is the next big step in Smith and Bradley’s plan to make Greene’s cross-country team a force in the area.

“This is a program that was not a one-year deal,” Smith said. “We plan to build this for years to come and the over-arching goal is that people want to come to Greene County because our program is so strong. We're hoping people will transfer from other schools so they can come run cross country with us because we've built up such a good program.”

Bradley said he plans to stick around for a while, too, and said, “as long as they’re running, I’ll be running.”

But Bradley said his goal is making the program strong to the point it remains that way beyond his stint as its coach.

“I think the most important thing is setting that foundation to where, even after we go on to do other things as coaches, teachers, professionals, we don't want to leave it until we're sure that it's in good hands and that it's been established as a force to be reckoned with here in Greene County and something that everybody recognizes,” Bradley said. “Cross-country's not considered a major sport but here it kind of feels like it. I want that to continue to grow and I want other people in the community to feel that same feeling.”

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