• Elementary Students
    Embrace Cross Country

    Posted by Josh Flory on 10/10/2018
    Muna Rodriguez, a parent and assistant coach for the Adrian Burnett Elementary cross-country team, runs with the team on Sept. 26, 2018.
    Muna Rodriguez, a parent and assistant coach for the Adrian Burnett Elementary cross-country team, runs with student-athletes at a practice on Sept. 26, 2018.

    When Adrian Burnett Elementary School started a cross country team this fall, coach Kenny Lewis didn’t expect a huge turnout.

    So the physical education teacher was “pleasantly shocked” when the fledgling team ended up with close to 20 participants in its inaugural year.

    Lewis said competitive racing is new to most of his runners so the first meets were an eye-opener, but “they’ve gotten used to it and they’re doing really well.”

    While high school sports like football, basketball or softball get most of the attention, many Knox County elementary schools have seen the benefits of track and cross country when it comes to fostering confidence and team spirit in elementary students.

    Andrea Veler, a 5th-grade teacher at Cedar Bluff Elementary, has coached the school’s cross country team for the past three years, and said the sport gives students an opportunity to learn about setting goals and being part of a team.

    Veler said that throughout the season she’ll talk to her athletes about how environmental factors like heat or rain can affect their performance in a particular race, and how sometimes you judge your performance by where you finished in the group more than by the time you run.

    But she also encourages them to take a long view. “So every time we run they are to set a goal of how they can improve little by little, so that by the end of the season they feel like they’ve accomplished something,” she said.

    Knox County’s strongest program may be Hardin Valley Elementary, where the boys have won three state championships since 2014, while the girls won a state championship in 2017.

    Varsity coach Jeff Charlton said strong family support has been a key to their success, and that his main point of emphasis is the importance of team effort. “You want to preach team,” he said. “Together everyone achieves more.”

    The state championship is coming up on October 20, and Hardin Valley is among the teams expected to contend for a title. But even the athletes that don’t win a championship will still benefit from the chance to run.

    Azura, a 5th-grader at Adrian Burnett, participated in the cross country team this year, and said she loves to run. “If I’m feeling bad or sad or something I just run by myself … It just puts me back on track.”