When you’re in the second year of building a cross country team like Danyl’ Bush is at Village Christian Academy, it helps to have an athletic-minded principal.
Few are more supportive of high school sports that new Village principal Bob Barnes.
Barnes, former principal at South View High School during a time when the Tigers fielded successful teams in multiple sports, has long disagreed with those who think athletics is the tail that wags the dog at some schools.
Barnes contends that it’s the heart of the school that actually makes the dog stronger.
“Kids relate to athletics,” he said, noting there are numerous statistics that show athletes have higher grade point averages than non-athletes.
Sports also give teacher-coaches a chance to work with students and get to know them better outside the classroom.
“It really and truly rounds out the student,” Barnes said.
He thinks that’s true of all sports, even a sport like cross country, which is sometimes referred to as “minor,” a term Barnes dislikes.
“It’s not a minor sport when your son or daughter is playing it,” he said.
He noted that not every athlete is cut out for more popular sports but all of them can make a contribution in some way, which is why it’s important to include the option of cross country in the mix.
He’s been impressed with the progress of the Village team in Bush’s second season as coach, noting that from the first meet to the second, every runner on the men’s and women’s teams improved their times. He credits a lot of that to Bush.
“She loves the kids, and she wants to win, but she wants to do it the right way,” Barnes said. “She’s not just there for recognition.”
A native of upstate New York, Bush has doubled the number of athletes in the Village cross country program in less than two years on the job.
“I think their ability to work together and encourage each other is an absolute strength,” she said.
The Knights are currently led by senior captain Aaron Bush and the top two runners, Bailee Luper for the women and Miles Seppelt for the men.
Luper said she gets her greatest enjoyment from cross country just by finishing a race.
“You feel very accomplished overall,” she said.
She feels the team has grown closer, knowing the people on it and adding members over the years.
“I think the coaches and Mr. Barnes and everybody are helping the team to grow as a whole,” she said.
Personal goals, cheers from the crowd
Aaron Bush has been a fan of cross country since he ran a marathon with his father.
“After that, I kept running and started doing cross country for the school.”
Because of its nature, cross country is unique among sports in that it is not usually held in a large arena unless the finish line is in a stadium where fans can congregate.
“Sometimes a lot of it is personal,” Bush said. “You’ve got to give yourself self-motivations because you’re alone while you’re running.”
But Bush said there are times when you turn a corner on a course and there are people cheering to give you a boost.
“It makes you feel a lot better and keeps you going,” he said.
Unlike Luper and Bush, Seppelt is in his first year of cross country after taking up running to try to lose weight. He finds running with a team more fun and tougher at the same time since you’re concentrating more on speed and trying to help the whole team.
“Our coaches encourage us to do the best we can as individuals,” Seppelt said. “Everybody is so welcoming, even if you are going against people.”
He said the cross country competitors he has encountered are the most friendly people you can meet.
Coach Bush hopes other students at Village will continue to grow the program by taking advantage of the training opportunity the sport provides for athletes who may be involved in different sports around the year.
“If you don’t have a sport you play in the fall, this will keep you going,” she said. “You have a good group of people around you. Cross country is a good place to be.’’
Follow Earl Vaughan Jr. on Twitter: @EarlVaughanJr.