At some point during the cross country season, I took to calling them the Magnificent Seven. And what a ride they had.
For the second year in a row, I took a group of Ojai Valley School student-athletes to the CIF Southern Section cross country preliminaries.
Last year, it was the girls who blazed a new trail by becoming the first girls’ cross country team in OVS history to make CIF.
This year it was the boys’ turn.
Shortly after the sun rose Saturday morning, I packed the top seven runners into a van and made the long trek to the Riverside City Cross Country Course, a dusty dirt track that over two days drew more than 3,000 of the best high school runners from across Southern California.
Minutes before their race, I gathered the OVS runners together and told them a few things.
First, I told the boys I was incredibly proud of them.
Several of these athletes competed in two sports during the fall, and some could not even complete three miles at the start of the season without walking. I told them they were amazing ambassadors for our school, and that the more than 100 students, faculty and staff at the Upper Campus would be running with them this day.
And finally, I told them to relax. The hard work was done. As far as I was concerned, this final three-mile race was a victory lap, a celebration of how far they had come and what they had accomplished together.
How they finished was not important. But, of course, this group couldn’t leave it at that.
Toeing the line against 112 other runners from 17 schools, nearly all of them with student populations larger than ours, several of the boys turned in personal best performances.
Junior Jacob Tadlock, our lead runner all season, set a personal record of 18:36 for three miles as he led us once more, with his family on hand to cheer him on. Running together most of the way, juniors Peter Weckerle and Kase Skillern accomplished season-long goals of breaking 20 minutes for three miles, demonstrating just how strong our core had become.
Then there was freshman Shea Colborn. Widely known at the Upper and Lower campuses for his singing and acting chops, he set a season best of 21:10 for three miles, more than three minutes better than his first meet this season. Aside from all of his other talents, there is a real athlete under that wide smile. Never doubt that.
With so many underclassmen filling the top spots, the future is bright for OVS cross country. But that’s not what this race was about.
From the time we started in September, these boys learned to run with purpose. They learned to commit to something larger than themselves, and they learned to rise up when then going got tough.
In a day in age where so much of the news about young people is distressing and downright devastating, where the spotlight shines so often on mistakes and misery, what these boys accomplished should be celebrated. And so it is here with me.
Thank you, boys. Thank you for reminding me of why I run and coach and teach. Thank you for the magnificent ride.