In her final post of the year, Executive Assistant Michelle Wilson chats with cross country coach Kerrie Hecko to illustrate what makes running special at UCDS. -Ed.
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UCDS has many traditions, but there is one program that I feel encapsulates the spirit of our school more than any other. The UCDS Cross Country program, now in its 21st season, is the perfect marriage of physical fitness training and community building. At the annual assembly held a couple weeks ago, the team was honored with participation medals and a fabulous t-shirt. The fact that UCDS has a cross country team and chooses to honor its players isn’t unique. What sets our program apart is the sheer number of students who participate. Of our 324 students, more than two-thirds are on the cross-country team!
I chatted with PE Specialist, Kerrie Hecko, and asked her to give some background about the program. “The program was founded by Head of School Paula Smith’s husband, Ted Smith. The program started out small, with about 30 runners. In the first few years that we practiced at Gorilla Park/University Playfield, we shared the park with the Roosevelt High School Marching Band. That was a hoot for both us and them. The program has grown tremendously since then, with about 220 runners participating every year. Without faculty/staff volunteering after school, we could never make it work. I’m not a mushy person but the fact that UCDS adults show up year after year and give their time and energy to the program is pretty special.”
Another distinctive element of the UCDS Cross Country club is the fact that all ages are welcome to participate. Kerrie explains, “Pre-school runners have been a part of the program since the beginning. Parents used to drive the younger runners from south campus up to the north campus for practice. The first big surge in numbers happened when the two campuses became one. UCDS practices include relays, strength, dynamic stretching, mock meets, pacing, starts, hurdles, games and obstacle courses. The 4th and 5th graders add trail running and hills at Ravenna Park to prepare for the longer distance courses.”
There is a great deal of support provided to the athletes by teachers, staff and parents. However, inspiration often comes from the students themselves. Kerrie adds, “Some of my favorite moments are watching the older runners encourage and guide the younger runners through activities. This is a tradition at UCDS Cross Country. These mentors are simply following in the footsteps of their predecessors who are now running on their middle school/high school cross-country teams.”