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ST Awards for Cross Country '05

I know a little bit about growing things. I was raised on a farm. We planted, tended and harvested. We watched things grow and depending upon the conditions, provided what we thought the plants needed. I won't pretend that I actually coached plants, but with a stretch of the imagination I think you can follow my point.

The more I thought of it the better I liked these categories. Athletes are a lot like trees. The basics of growing trees is well known. You can look it up in a book. But no matter how hard you try, some trees flourish while others lag behind. Some have rapid first year growth while others need more time to take root. You can't treat them all the same and they won't all turn out the same. Still, once you've had a part in their growth they all look beautiful to you.

I'm only going to point to a few of the trees that have stood out this year, but believe me when I say that taking a walk in the Hockomock forest is a pleasant experience.

Solid as an Oak Award - Dan Cerqueira

Oak is both solid and durable. For the sake of this award forget that the reason it holds these qualities is because it is dense. Who is that person in the league who stands strong and doesn't waver under any conditions? Let me know!

Dan Cerqueira (MANS)--"in his 10th season of distance running for MHS (2 to go). Has never had a serious injury (knock on "oak wood"). The valuable lesson of consistency in training paid off huge for him this Fall".

The nice thing about oak is that you can rely on it - just like Dan. It's the choice of wood when you want something to last, like team success.

Pine Award – Three Sport Award - Lindsay Booth
No, this isn't about being a sap. Pines aren't one-season wonders.   They show their best year-round. Other trees go dormant the minute cold weather appears, dropping their leaves and chillin' until spring. You know that the Hock is filled with some September to June talent. So who is your pick for best year-round runner.

Lindsay Booth, "Hock All Star in XC, Indoor and Outdoor. Just ask yourself this one question....Would you like
to race her?"

She is definately a girl for all seasons. Doesn't matter whether the conditions are hot or cold, wet or dry. You won't see her sporting lights this Christmas because noone has yet figured how to cut her down.

Palm Tree – Withstanding Adversity Award - Jennie Halperin and Paul Matz

This is a special one. I wouldn't have even thought of it, but it's the favorite tree of my Florida transfer student. Sometimes the wind blows hard. But the palm tree knows how to bend with the wind to survive. Cross country athletes have to do the same. When the going gets tough you have to learn how to bend so that you don't break. Running XC isn't supposed to be a bowl of cherries. If it was easy, everyone could do it. Even football players! Oops, did I say that. What runner has faced the greatest adversity but still stands tall?

I think the people who nominated them said it best.

Jennie Halperin - "Oliver Ames Adversity isn't always physical stress. Last month Jennie's mother underwent major surgery. Through all this, Jennie maintained stability and continued running in the crucial fifth spot for Oliver Ames, appearing at practice as often as she could and competing in meets two days after. She constantly shows heart and dedication in the toughest of circumstances, and it seems that nothing could never keep her down from doing her best."

Paul Matz (KP)--"has overcome a serious injury from his sophomore year to return stronger than ever. His freshman year he showed big potential - and he realized it this year making the State finals."

Elm Award – Best Form - Jess Pickett
Elms are the stateliest of trees. New Haven is the location of some of the best runners in New England. It is also known as the Elm City. Some runners have such beautiful form that it is just pleasant to watch. I'm looking for poetry in motion, so if you were to write a poem about someone's running form, who would it be? This is a bonus category. Not only will they win the prestigious STAward, but they will have an original ode dedicated to them!

Jess Pickett. "She has amazing and graceful form."

Some styles are timeless. The picket fence never goes out of vogue. The Pickett, Jess won't either. Her smooth running was a huge part of the reason OA grabbed the Hock Championship. Sis wasn't too shabby either!

I forgot I promised a poem. Here it is.

Ode to Jess Pickett


Gliding o'er uneven ground

Deep in a cross country chase

Breathing deep and heart a-pound

Still maintaining running grace


Digging down because she cares

To others it may seem like ease

Still faster than most others dare

In order to her coaches please


She's constantly in motion now

Till someday Jess will stop to rest

Not yet, until she finds out how

To climb and be the very best!

Maple - Most Colorful Award - Sara Krasney
I associate the changing of leaves to cross country. This sport doesn't get serious until the trees sport the reds, rusts and yellows of autumn. It is the maples that draw thousands of leaf peepers to the woods of the northeast. Nobody runs their best when the leaves are still green. So colorful (some might say flakey – but the category isn't pie crusts) runners evoke the spirit of cross country. I need to find a poster child of cross country that would spark the imagination of fans. Who would it be?

Sara Krasney - "You don't come across many athletes as "colorful' as this one. I'll admit shes a bit flakey, but that's what makes her unique. If it weren't for her practice just wouldn't be the same."

Practices are never dull with Sara around. Whether she's picking up a bug and naming it the "Estinator" or presenting me with a pin that says "Don't anger the master", I never know what to expect. She keeps us loose but come meet time she's focused.

Sara will never live in a black and white world.

Just like my maple trees keep me busy raking, "Kras" keeps me busy - period. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Cherry – Integrity Award - Caitlin Lawrence
Never let the truth get in the way of a good category. Washington couldn't possibly have slept in half the beds claimed. And he probably didn't chop down a cherry tree. But integrity is such a desirable trait in a president – and a runner. Don't ask me about WMD's. But here it is centuries after the founding of our country and the rumor still persists that GW cut down a cherry tree but “could not tell a lie”. So I ask you. Other than someone from your own team, who do you most trust to tell you the truth. Better yet, who would you elect president!!

Caitlin Lawrence - I'm going with my gut instinct on this one.

There are a lot of runners in this league who impress me for a variety of reasons. When it comes to speaking from the heart, Caitlin is right up there with the best. She apoligizes for picking mostly Franklin girls, but her reasons are just - loyalty is a good thing. Never apoligize for being loyal! But she is also open and willing to see the best in other teams as well. Cailtin isn't at the top of the Hockomock League best times list, just at the top of the best people list!

Cedar – Most Heart Award - Dan Ricci

Cedars have a strong heart (heartwood). The outer layers can fall away but a century later the center is as strong as iron. Iron is what it takes to be a “great” runner. Natural talent can make you good. Luck can help make you look good. But as Westside Connection would say, “You Gotta Have Heart.” You can see it in the way they approach everything. Who most puts their heart into their running.

Derek Ricci - "just loves this sport...Running changed his whole life and even if he isnt the best he just puts his entire heart and love into running."

I never know what I'm going to find out with these awards. Man oh man, it must be Dan. My phone was ringing off the hook with nominations for this guy.

Cypress – Fastest Growing - Liz Fisher
This is my rookie of the year award (or an upperclassman who suddenly blossomed). Cypress trees grow fast. One day, a mere sapling – the next they tower over the rest. Who started the year as a seedling and now stands out in the grove. This is a neat name for a tree – now give me a neat newcomer to which I can attach it.

Liz Fisher "She's new to the Hock, but she has certainly made an impact. She started running this summer and couldn't finish a mile in under 9 minutes. During the first workout of the year she was probably the team's 20th runner. She slowly go the hang of competitive running as the season progressed and worked hard to identify her weaknesse and improve upon them. Now she is Franklin's #2 runner and can get through a 5k in a bit over 20:17 (State Coaches' Meet). I can't see how anybody could compete with that."

I thought I'd be giving this to the top frosh but this nomination changed my mind. This was the most hotly contested category. Tons of great nominations.

Her growth spurt is scary. Hey Liz, did you ever think of playing soccer?

Beech – Smoothest - Jenna Banks

Effortlessness! Always in control!! A joy to watch!!! Beech trees have such smooth bark, but they are also tied into enduring legacies.


A serious aside! When I was in Luxemboug I stood among a stand of beeches into which WWII GI's had carved "USA"! That was over 60 years ago and the message was still clear. These soldiers were young boys (maybe the same age as some seniors in our league) and they were ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for their team. It was in the days leading up to the Battle of the Bulge. Mere miles from the spot there are huge cemeteries honoring the dead from both sides.


Back to the category. I looked at these trees and all I could say was, “Wow”. Who runs so smooth that all you can say is, “Wow”.

Jenna Banks - "She always looks totally relaxed! I can never tell how much she has run because it seems like she never gets tired; whether she has run 1 mile or 7 miles. She's definately not one of those people you get tired just watching."

Call me biased. I plead guilty! Jenna could have won half these awards.

There's something about Jenna that has captured the attention of the league. I received countless nominations for her from other teams.

What has caught my eye most of all is that she doesn't look like she's working hard. Coming to the finish line during the state class meet she looked perfectly in control, running down a couple of well-known runners in the last 400M. I have a picture of her in the last 20M with perfect form.

Yet, she barely made it to the end of the chute - absolutely drained. Had I not held her up, she would have collapsed. She makes it look too easy. Believe me, for her it isn't.

Aspen – Teamwork Award - Oliver Ames

A forest of aspen may look like many trees. But in reality, they may be one. An entire stand of aspen may share one root system. I'm told that the largest living thing (mass/weight wise) is an aspen so large that it is considered the largest living thing on the planet (and has its own name). When the slightest wind blows they appear to quake in unison. That's what I call a team. Both inextricably linked and in total harmony – functioning as one. This is a team award. What team in the Hockomock League best demonstrated the qualities of the Aspen?

I've got to tell you that there is some great competition in the league. I didn't even nominate my own team, but thanks to Capt. Jenna Banks and six loyal followers this is the most "in-unison" team I have ever coached." I have to throw them out of practice so I can go home and get some sleep - then they all meet up somewhere else to spend the rest of their time together.

Franklin girls have set a high standard of togetherness since Coach Sweeney arrived on the scene, and the Mansfield boys wouldn't have had their incredible amount of success if they weren't all focused on the same goal.

But my hat is off (for your own safety you must wear sunglasses so you aren't blinded by the glare) to Oliver Ames as this year's Aspen Team of the Year. They beat with one heart and their performance at the State Finals just confirmed what I already felt. ALL SEVEN PR'd and led the team to a sixth place finish in Class II. The worst news of all is, the Binney-Pickett sandwich isn't a limited edition. They'll be serving again all next fall.

Birch – Most Willing to Sacrifice for Another - Dan Darcy

When you talk about sacrifice, you talk about a runner willing to “give the skin off his back” for his team. A birch survives while continuingly giving up its skin. Peel the outer layers back and you get to see the inner tree. Don't worry! Inside resides the true tree. (Actually, being a closet environmentalist, I hope you don't just go picking the bark off trees, just like I hope you don't go around carving USA in beeches – it isn't really good for the beeches). But I digress. Who's mantra involves putting team above self? Who is most willing to sacrifice for a teammate? Give me details. I want to know!

"You'd think he'd want to recover for the track seasons, but he was out there on Sat. giving it his best shot at trying to get his team to the State Meet"

Dan doesn't think about himself first. What is one of the most amazing things I've seen this week? Dan nominated someone else for the same category for which he had been nominated. I assume he was disappointed by his finish on Saturday at State Class. But he was still out there cheering for the rest of the Hockomock runners. This guy has class!

When I landscaped my back yard, one of the first things I did was dig up a large birch and plant it in a prominant position. If I could grab any athlete in the league around which to design a winning team, it would be Dan Darcy. He doesn't grow by overshadowing his teammates.