For anybody who ever ran a mile in PE class and thought that there couldn’t possibly be anything more tortuous, cross country is like an extended nightmare. Physically, I don’t think there is a more difficult sport to do. The coaches pick some spot on the horizon, point to it, and tell the kids, “Run to that, turn around and come back.” At least that’s what it feels like. In a typical workout, the kids run for over an hour, sometimes even longer. Over an hour! Running! The football team looks positively lazy in comparison (of course, a cross country runner isn’t periodically slamming into another runner or being tackled).
And yet, as hard as the sport is, dozens of young men and women come out for it, year after year. Only seven kids can run varsity. Only a couple of others have a chance to slip into the varsity spots—the competition is intense—but all these other kids show up every day. How did a program like this develop at FMHS? What’s going on here?
The only answer that makes sense is Huskey and Bowen created and fostered a culture that kids wanted to be a part of. They made kids feel included and valuable. People are hungry for an environment where they believe they matter, and that’s what they got at FMHS on the cross country team.
This week the team held their end of the season banquet. Many folks cried about Huskey and Bowen’s departure: kids, parents and coaches. What I got from the banquet is what I believe is what is best in American education and what is our true resource in the classroom: caring, amazingly competent instructors who care deeply about what they are doing for kids.
When we foster an environment where teachers can flourish, we build strong schools. When highly skilled teachers engage their students in programs where the kids feel included and valuable, the students soar.
What I think happened in cross country is that instead of the drudgery of the miles, Huskey and Bowen helped their athletes see that the long run can be done in joy. We should all celebrate our teachers who can give a sense of joy to the students in what they do.
Thank you Bear. Thank you Terri. You’ve done more good than we can possibly measure.
~Jim Van Pelt