SPRINGFIELD TWP. For five years, Kevin Gorby has been telling anyone who will listen - and probably a few who won’t - that the Springfield cross country and track programs are on the rise and heading toward bigger things.
After the fourth edition of what has become the cross country program’s signature event, it appears some of those bigger things have come to fruition. On Sept. 22, the Spartans hosted the Frola Frolic, a large event that includes elementary and middle school races prior to the centerpiece, a five-team varsity race.
This year’s event came just days after what Gorby deemed of of the program’s "best days in school history."
A second-place finish by the boys team and a fourth-place result for the girls at the Portage Trail Conference Super Duals meet left the outspoken Gorby raving about his team.
"The PTC meet went very, very well … our boys took second place behind Woodridge in the Super Duals, which is our best finish ever in the Super Duals. The boys team is really starting to step up," Gorby said.
At the Super Duals, the boys team entered ranked fifth in the PTC Metro, but according to Gorby "stunned" the rest of the division by racing past much of the competition thanks to an 11th-place finish by junior Blake Hillyard and strong efforts by teammates Carter McCullom, George Hennigan, Colin Leporis, Nate Ford, Kirk Albrecht and Ryan Thompson.
That success continued a the Frola Frolic, named after former Springfield Local principal Cynthia Frola, who was again on hand to help with senior day festivities and enjoy the races.
Hillyard raced past the competition to win the varsity race in a time of 18:11, with McCollum third in 19:12 and Leporis fifth with a time of 19:46. Those results, as well as the overall success so far this season, underscores the effort and focus Gorby and other coaches have put on the district’s youth and middle school programs.
"Almost all of our guys have come up through that middle school program and then to see what Betty Kern has done with the elementary school group to go on to see what Jodi Burgress has done in the middle school and then up to us, this is what we’ve been talking about, you build from within," Gorby said. "You don’t find new kids who have never run before. You find kids who know what they’re doing and how to compete. When I first started here, every year it was new kids, new kids, new kids … now to see them come from your middle school program, it’s awesome."
Kern was on hand for the elementary school race at the Frola Frolic, while Burgess served as the starter for all of the races. They’ve had a hand in seeing Hillyard, McCollum, Leporis and many members of the boys and girls teams take the program from an afterthought within the district and the league and turn it into a competitive outfit that continues to open eyes.
The girls team has enjoyed some of that success this season, with Emma Sandefur placing eighth at the Super Duals on a muddy day, with the Spartans’ top seven rounded out by Natalie Phillips, Merrick Glass, Laci Garner, Hanna Warnick, Laura Walsh and Ava Johnson.
Gorby credited the girls for running well as a unit and helping each other out that day and against the Frola Frolic field, Sandefur added a second-place finish (22:25) while Glass (fourth, 23:36) and Phillips (sixth, 23:45) also ran well.
"It is their home course, so they like to run it. We just need to get more experienced, keep building on it and keep moving forward," Gorby said.
Cross country and track have enjoyed more success the past few seasons than most other Springfield programs, some of which have struggled with participation numbers. Asked if there are any lessons to be drawn from the running programs and applied to other sports in the district, Gorby pointed toward one specific subject.
"Tradition … you’ve got to start somewhere. I say to everybody … our numbers, I’d love to tell you I have two busloads of kids coming to every meet, or three busloads, but we do have tradition. The kids who came before have set a foundation for this program and these kids now want to live up to that," he said. "We started somewhere and where we started may have not been the best, but a lot of programs think you’re going to win instantly… you’re not. It’s going to take time. It takes perseverance and belief in your training and in your coaches and now that we are in that position, now all of a sudden, winning starts happening."
He noted that a group of athletes who may not have been esteemed very highly by those on the outside looking in, they have become successful on a level such that they are now retroactively view as competitors who "were always good."
"We started somewhere and now, we’re where we want to be," he added.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB