They ran to Alaska…Anchorage to be exact. So, you ask, how did they get back?
Under the direction and oversight of coaches Lee Atkinson and Paige Drisgula, the boys’ and girls’ teams ran the mileage to Anchorage, which is, by Coach Atkinson’s measure, 4,322 miles. About 50 runners took part, ranging from seventh and eighth graders at Clinton Middle School and ninth through 12th at CHS.
Paige Trent ran the most miles, 207. The average distance was about 85.
Atkinson got the idea from Winthrop University coach Ben Paxton. It began with a sideline conversation at a track meet.
“I was talking to Coach Paxton about what I could do in the summer,” Atkinson said. “He said that trying to keep cross country athletes motivated in the summer was not that easy, so why not make a game out of it? Run across America. We brought everyone in on workout days, and everyone contributed miles. The kids enjoyed it and really had fun with it.”
In 2016, the Red Devils ran to the equivalent of Los Angeles. This year they aimed farther. And norther. Something like that. They may dog-paddle to Hawaii before it’s all done.
What coaches Atkinson and Drisgula hope to encourage is something of a running community in District 56.
“It’s safe to say that Clinton is a football town,” Atkinson, who coached football on the CHS staff for many years, said. “There are other places that are definitely running communities. Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Rock Hill, all have true running communities, where parents are running and they get their kids involved. We have a running community in Clinton. It’s rather small in comparison, but I want to give Joel Rexford credit for bringing cross country to the high school in the late 1990s. In the beginning, it was a way to draw athletes in winter and spring sports who weren’t involved in football or volleyball in the fall.
“We’re trying to create a running state of mind where, not only are we getting ready for, say, soccer season, but we want to win. We want to challenge ourselves.”
The parents of Clinton High’s runners also participated in an accompanying run-walk program. The parents fell about 80 miles shy of Anchorage. They imaginarily wound up at some fishing village down the coast.
In cross country, everything is measurable. Identifying a talented football player requires breaking down of film, review of methods and intangible aspects beyond merely speed, strength and agility.
Atkinson noted, “Speed is speed, and time is time. We know, if we want to be in the top two or three of our region, we know there’s something we have to do to get there. We need five runners who can run five kilometers in under 20 minutes. There’s a way to get where you want to go. It’s direct, and that’s one of the things I like about cross country.”