Wilbraham & Monson Academy Boys' Cross Country is a team where athletes of all backgrounds come together. We compete in the New England Prep School Division IV championship meet each year, and have seen our standing in that field improve every year since 2007. At our core, we have strong student leadership that has helped instill a tradition of hard work and sportsmanship. The Cross Country team brings together a diverse mix of students, many without prior running experience as well as many serious runners who anticipate running in college. Over the past three years we have had students from eight states and nine countries participate in Cross Country. Our student leaders and our coaches stress that each individual is part of a team, and that everyone can improve.
In practices we break the team into three to four levels, based on a combination of experience and ability. Each group runs a similar but modified run to meet the diverse needs of the team. A couple of days a week we utilize the new Shaw Track, while the mixture of flat roads to the west of campus and the rolling hills to the east of campus offer athletes scenic and varied training runs ideal for Cross Country.
To begin this section it will be helpful to convey a special moment from the 2010 team. For the final training run before our taper period, the team does the same workout every year and the following has become a tradition. The team warms up with a run that is about 2.5 miles in length. The slowest member of the team begins first and the next slowest starts about 30 seconds later and so on until our fastest runner commences. At the end of the run, virtually the whole team finishes together within a margin of a minute. The run ends at an old farm that is now public property. The land is generally flat, but there is about an 800-yard stretch that might descend fifteen feet gradually and evenly in elevation. Every year, we run this stretch repeatedly and the team feels wonderful about how fast they can run a half-mile speed. At the end of the practice, the team sprints up and down a small, steep hill and then every member of the team sits in a circle and tells what they liked best about the season. This past year every runner said that they liked being part of a team and learning what they as individuals could achieve. Then they ran back to campus as a team, everyone together warming down and continuing the conversation, on the more direct mile-and-a-half run back to school.
This scene was no accident, and it is recalled here because it was the embodiment of the philosophy that we try to imbue in all of our Cross Country runners. Through different practices and traditions our program imprints three main ideas on our athletes. The first idea is that running is something to be valued and enjoyed. Running is valued because almost everyone can learn what it is to work hard and achieve personal success. Running is enjoyable because it is a time where you have only one purpose, and that is to move forward. You have a goal that you are capable of achieving and you always can achieve the distance, assuming you prepare properly. In experiencing achievement you gain confidence as an athlete in your ability to prepare. We also stress that this experience is translatable in the academic world. The second idea is that to be the best that you can, you must also create a positive, supportive, and empowering team atmosphere. When you share in achieving something, whether a victory over an opponent, or a victory over yourself, the intrinsic rewards of achievement are greater those of lone victories. The third part of our philosophy ties the other two together. Cross Country is a goal-oriented sport. In our case, our goal is to improve on our championship placement from the year before. The development of goals is another area where running on Cross Country helps prepare the athlete to face other types of challenges, athletic or academic. We prepare with specificity, with purpose, and as a team.