For the first time since the mid-1980s, the Houston School District will field cross country teams this year.
The high school squad includes four boys and three girls, while the middle school team features five boys and five girls.
The teams will compete under the watch of coach Michelle Henshaw, a health teacher who previously coached cross country at Plato and Success. Henshaw is a native of Doolittle who has competed in three full marathons, six half-marathons and several other long distance races.
“I feel honored to be a part of this program and getting it restarted,” she said. “I’m excited for these kids because some of them wouldn’t do athletics if it weren’t for cross country. This sport is unique in that way.”
Henshaw said the uniqueness of cross country is most evident at meets – especially large events.
“There’s nothing more exciting than the starting line of a cross country race,” she said. “The is just so much energy. And then, of course the finish; it’s so exciting seeing the spectators cheering the kids on, and sometimes you see a kid who’s struggling just push it. It’s awesome.
“It’s hard work.”
Several of Houston’s runners are excited about the idea of more or less being cross country pioneers, and are looking forward to getting out on the various 3.1 mile (5K) courses they’ll compete on.
“This is a really cool experience,” said junior Zach Brannan. “It’s kind of a stress reliever for a lot of kids and it’s a great thing for people like us who like to play sports and have a good time.”
“It feels good,” said sophomore Hunter McKinney. “I knew this would be something I would excel at and I like the feeling that this was gone for a while and is now coming back. I really want to help the team do well, and along with my teammates, it looks like we have a good team.”
Like coach Henshaw, sophomore Annie Topping said cross country allows some kids to get involved in athletics who might otherwise never have the chance.
“I actually think it would benefit a lot of people,” Topping said. “There are multiple people in our school who don’t play any sports, and I feel like since you’re running a long distance and you can go slower instead of just sprinting, it would be easier on some people who aren’t very fast.”
Houston squads will not post team scores this season, since five runners are required for a score to be generated by a given boys or girls team. Houston will not host a meet this season either, but will begin the campaign next Thursday (Sept. 12) in a competition at Willow Springs, also including Mountain Grove, Plato and perhaps other teams.
“These kids haven’t experienced a meet yet and I can’t wait for them to get one under their belts,” Henshaw said. “They’re going to be amazed and they’re going to love it.”