Cross country runners hold fall tradition
When the school buses pulled up next to Audubon Park last week, kids bolted from the open doors like colts headed for an open field. Backpacks were flung in piles at the foot of the tall trees and soon after parents, siblings and grandparents began to arrive.
It was a typical fall middle school cross country meet and it was one of the last ones before the All-City meet today at Shaw Middle School.
Chase health and fitness teacher Lorri Slauson has been involved with the program for 25 years.
“The program has been around forever, I was in it when I was a middle school kid 35 years ago,” Slauson said. The Middle Level League includes middle schools in Spokane and Mead school districts, and usually more than 300 students show up to compete at the meets. Cross country, girls softball, boys wrestling and girls volleyball are the fall sports, followed by boys and girls basketball over winter and track and baseball in the spring.
Hannah Tomeo is 12 and a seventh-grader at Salk Middle School. She came in eighth in last Thursday’s mile race around the park.
“I’ve been running since I was in fourth grade. My family runs, that’s how I got started,” said Tomeo, while catching her breath after the run. “I like to do all the sports, and I think basketball is my favorite.”
Around her, teammates and parents were high-fiving each other.
“I run to get in shape for basketball. I don’t like running, it doesn’t come to me naturally, but I am getting better at it,” Tomeo said, adding that she’s placed better at every meet this year and she’s looking forward to the all-city meet.
Students don’t have to make certain times or show athletic improvement to be on their school’s team.
“The only qualification we have is academic,” said Slauson. “They must be passing all their classes to be able to compete. And many schools check their grades every four weeks.”
If a student is struggling in a class, Slauson said teachers and coaches work together to help the student back on track by attending study hall and getting extra help.
“We cut very, very few kids,” said Slauson. “If we cut anyone it’s based on our facilities. Sometimes you just don’t have room for 100 kids in one particular sport.”
Like several other programs, this middle school league was on the chopping block during the last budget round at Spokane Public Schools. Converting it to an intramural league could potentially have saved $525,000, according to the 2011-2012 school budget list of potential budget cuts.
“We always worry we will not be funded for next year,” said Slauson. “I wish people understood that we are academic-based, that we help the kids excel in class.”
More and more kids are turning out for the middle school league.
“Numbers at Chase Middle School have gone up every year for the last five years,” said Slauson. “In this economic crunch time people can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on club sports.”
Tomeo is one happy runner and she plans to participate in the program as long as she can.
“I know you have to keep your grades up, I’ve heard they can be tough about that,” said Tomeo. “So I work on that. You can’t compete if you don’t have your grades up.”