The seven members of Hillyard International – a cross country team made up of Rogers High School athletes who come from around the world – decided to buy cotton jerseys to keep costs down for entering their inaugural postseason meet.
The frugal athletes planned to travel to Saturday’s NXR Regional Championships in Boise, the biggest meet of their season after the Rogers boys narrowly missed qualifying for the state 3A meet, in a rented van and to crash at someone’s house for the meet this weekend.
But those plans have changed, thanks to an anonymous $10,000 donation. That money will cover airfare, hotel rooms and meals for the seven varsity runners, some of whom have never been on a plane before.
That reversal of fortune was a major surprise to the runners and their coach, Ken Bell.
So was the transformation of the Rogers High running program to rival teams over the last six years since Bell took over.
The first season of Bell’s tenure, three athletes turned out for the team. Last year, they took fifth at state. This season – the team’s best in recent memory – 25 runners signed up and the team ranked second in the state 3A coaches poll after winning the Greater Spokane League meet in late September and the Nike Battle for the 509 the week before.
Top runners junior Daniel Lee and senior Issak Chol took 10th and 24th in state after the team narrowly missed qualifying behind future state champs Kamiakin and third-place North Central.
“We’ve come up from being a laughing matter to suddenly getting, ‘Whoa,’ ” Bell said.
To compete in the postseason meet, the team could not be affiliated with Rogers, so team captain Jakob Trantum, a senior and No. 3 runner, ordered those cotton Hillyard International jerseys.
The “International” in the name is a nod to the various places members of the team hail from, including Lee, who came to Spokane from Ethiopia at 9, and Chol, who immigrated from Sudan at 10.
The team members and their coach were shocked by news of the big donation.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Bell said.
Trantum said he walked into class the day they got the donation and was “really surprised” to overhear a teammate talking about flying on a plane to the meet.
“I’ve never been on a plane,” he said.
Before one of the team’s last practices in Spokane on Thursday, Ryan Hite, owner of Negative Split, a local race-organizing company, dropped off boxes of new running shoes, along with other racing gear, to donate to the team.
“We just have the heart of the kids,” said Hite, who credited the quality of the team’s runners and the original anonymous donor for getting the athletes to the meet. “We try to get out there and support the local younger runners.”
Lee, the team’s top runner, said he aims to have a strong showing in Boise before his senior season next year. He aspires to run in college after that.
“I hope that I become a big-time runner,” he said.
Lori Shauvin, a Rogers special education teacher who helps organize district cross country events, said Lee will travel with her and 31 other Spokane male and female runners to the Foot Locker West Regional Cross Country Championships in Walnut, California, in December.
In Shauvin’s 20 years at Rogers, where many families struggle financially, she said she’s never seen an athletic team get such a large donation.
“These kids are great, and they really deserve this,” she said, giving credit to Bell for turning the team around. “Ken has built this program.”
When Lee heard about the donation, he said he was initially worried that it was a prank. Now he wants to thank the donor for their support.
“It’s pretty amazing that somebody gives us that much money,” he said. “This is a privilege.”
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