Commerce High School’s cross country coach Mark Hale made one thing abundantly clear about his runners as they finished jogging two miles during their first practice of the season – they run for the sheer enjoyment of running.
“It’s one of those sports that doesn’t get a lot of attention paid to it,” said Hale. “The people who are out here are self-motivated, and I respect the people who come out here for that reason. They certainly aren’t doing it for the fame or the glory.”
Hale has been the Tigers’ head coach for 15 of the 20 years that CHS has had a cross country program. Although the Tigers haven’t had strong seasons in the past, Hale and his runners remain optimistic and passionate about their sport.
“We are in a tough region, and private schools tend to dominate,” said Hale. “We usually have a small group that becomes somewhat of a family as we practice and run together, so the people on our team usually enjoy it. We have a really good time.”
Commerce has several returning runners this year including four seniors; Steffy Montes, Nick Henderson, Justin Langston and Johnny Mcabee. Also returning are Lindsey Carlyle and Jake Schramm. Additionally, the Tigers have three newcomers joining their ranks this season — Orlando Gonzalez, Jose Rodriguez and Parker Moon.
As runners began to finish their first couple of miles of the season, they explained their affection for their sport while breathlessly gulping down water and wiping away sweat.
“I was pretty good at running, so I decided to try it out,” said sophomore runner Jake Schramm. “At first you may feel sore and you might hate it, but after two or three weeks it becomes so much fun. It’s one of those things you can always improve in.”
When asked why he decided to run cross country, senior Justin Langston simply replied, “I just do it for fun.”
The runners may have enjoyed themselves on the first day of practice, but Hale believes they have a long road of conditioning ahead.
“The last several years we haven’t really had anyone put in a lot of time during the off-season, so that’s kind of disappointing,” said Hale. “It can be punishing on the body, but it’s rewarding. I hope they all stick it out.”
The Tigers have only five meets scheduled for this season thus far, the first of which will take place at Banks County High School on Thursday, Sept. 13.