Cross county has a unique distinction among high school sports in Glynn County.
While boys and girls play basketball, soccer, track and field, and on the baseball field, cross country is the only sport where boys and girls train together.
When cross country was first introduced in Glynn County schools in the 1990s, boys and girls had separate coaches. But it wasn’t long before the decision was made to have one coach oversee both programs.
Theresa Adams was the first girls coach at Glynn Academy for several years before she was asked to also coach the boys. The transition was easy, she said.
“A lot of other coaches in the state were doing both teams,” she said. “They both pretty much run the same distance. There was no debate about the girls.”
Nowadays, a growing number of high schools have adopted the same philosophy.
Landon Nelson, coach of the Glynn Academy cross country team, said it’s not awkward being responsible for the boys and girls squads. There is no Lady Terrors cross country team, or Red Terrors boys team. Instead, his athletes believe they are part of one team.
“Our group is like a family,” Nelson said. “They feed off each other.”
Brunswick High cross country coach Andrew Madden agrees.
“It makes sense making two separate teams one,” he said. “It makes both teams better. Running is one of the most basic sports.”
Dalton Pender, a team captain at Brunswick High, said he has been running cross country since sixth grade, and he likes training with the girls.
“It’s all one team,” he said. “I think it’s a lot better. It pushes the girls to compete. I love the atmosphere.”
Jared Conway, co-captain at Glynn Academy, quit playing soccer to run cross country, and he had no problems training with the girls.
“It’s great,” he said. “We can relate with each other. We’re pretty tight.”
Grace Thacker, co-captain of the GA girls squad, said she ran track in eighth grade before joining the cheerleader team in her freshman year. A friend encouraged her to run cross country in her sophomore year, so she quit cheerleading and began distance running. It didn’t take long for her to embrace the sport. The boys were supportive from the time she joined the team and helped push her to be a better runner.
“Working with the guys really motivated me,” he said.
Now that she is a team co-captain, she has assumed a leadership role, and not just for the girls squad.
“I try to be a good example,” she said.
Runners from both squads say coaches treat the boys and girls the same way and aren’t hesitant about giving a little tough love occasionally.
“It’s the exact same for everybody,” said Rebecca Riden, co-captain of the Glynn Academy girls squad. “With cross country, I feel it’s a lot more hands on. Coach Nelson really watches how we handle ourselves.”
Nelson said some of his faster girls help the younger boys who are still developing into distance runners. In fact, the top girl runners post faster times than some of the boys on the junior varsity squad.
“I don’t think they take it personally. The focus is to improve every race,” he said of the girls beating some of the boys.
Rogelio Quintanar, community coach for the Brunswick High team, said it makes sense to have boys and girls train together, even if there are obvious differences in their times.
“Will a slow runner benefit training with a faster runner? Absolutely,” he said. “It comes down to the team aspect we’re trying to create. It helps push that competitive edge.”
Riden, who started running cross country last year, said training with the boys helped her to improve her times.
“I look up to their speeds,” she said.
She is also on girls basketball and track teams, and said cross country has helped her improve in those sports.
Nelson said athletes participating in other sports benefit from running cross country because the distance running strengthens core muscles and builds stamina. Athletes playing any other sport can benefit from cross country, and it’s not just those where lots of running is involved, such as soccer and basketball.
Nelson said he had a golfer who added 30 yards to his drives after he ran for the team.
Nelson said he sets goals for each runner and has expectations they will meet those goals and continue to improve. Those expectations also include proper hydration and diet.
“They don’t care how much you know,” he said. “They care how much you care.”
Runners have a diet chart and are required to keep track of everything they eat and drink. It’s an important part of their training regimen because of the hot weather.
Thacker said she learned the importance of hydration last season when she was unable to finish the first two races. It shook her confidence and had an impact on her performance for the rest of the year.
“It was hard to give it all mentally,” she said.
Quintanar said nutrition and proper hydration is also a big part of the training at Brunswick High, where the school is actively trying to grow its cross country program.
“The heat is something to be mindful of,” he said. “It’s a risky time to be working out.”
Madden said he is trying to build the cross country program at Brunswick High and is actively trying to recruit more runners, especially girls, because the squad doesn’t have a lot of depth. He talks to soccer coaches, gym teachers to identify potential runners, and students themselves to encourage them to join the team.
Both teams have a goal of improving and challenging for the region championship and beyond.
“The team that’s always winning every year is Richmond Hill,” Pender said. “We’re trying to get more runners to try out. It’s fun to be out there with other people. I love the atmosphere.”
One of the best things about cross country is there are no size barriers that prevent someone from joining the team, Quintanar said.
“Word of mouth is the key,” he said. It’s a sport everyone can participate in.”