Hard work, sacrifice, dedication, drive, commitment, consistency, ability to set goals and see them through, teamwork, attention to details and time management. According to Sandpoint High School cross-country coaches, Matt and Angie Brass, these are the traits that have driven the success of their athletes both athletically and academically.
“Since the team started in 1986, we have had 14 valedictorians and nine salutatorians,” shared Angie. “Noteworthy, is that the same traits that help you excel in the classroom are the same ones that help you excel in all areas of your life.”
This year’s team is larger than usual with 52 students, 22 of whom are girls and 30 boys. “The girls’ team entered the season as the two-time defending 4A State Champions,” said Angie. “They are again one of the top teams in the state and ready to defend their title. The boys’ team took third in the state last year and are also racing very well this season.”
The success of the individuals and the team does not come without a great deal of hard work. During the season, the students compete or train six days each week. The first year runners run 15 to 20 miles per week while the veteran varsity athletes run between 40 and 50 miles each week.
“Once the season is over, each runner has to take a two week active recovery where they are not allowed to run in order to recharge both physically and mentally,” shared Matt. “In December we start our off-season winter runs for those not doing a winter sport, meeting Monday and Wednesday afternoon and Friday mornings. We hold this schedule through February until track starts.”
Summer training begins in mid-June and is three times each week. “We spend a great deal of time together running throughout the year. (We have) yearly traditions, team dinners and events and camps. It is a truly a family of runners,” said Angie.
And like a family, they honor those who have gone through their program and made an impact on the lives around them. Such is the case with the Sandpoint Invitational, an event that was renamed for Will Johnson in early 2010 after the then 15-year-old cross-country team member passed away.
Both Matt and Angie describe Will as a vibrant young man, extremely funny and extremely genuine. “He was always respectful to the coaches, and we saw him growing in leadership ability and maturity in his two years running with us. He knew there was a rewarding place for everyone who put in the training and took part,” said Matt. “More than anything, this team was filled with his friends, to him it was an extension of his family. His short life had an impact on many, when classmates come to visit us they still talk about Will and tell stories of the things he did.”
In addition, each season the coaches present the Will Johnson award to an athlete who brings positive energy to the team each and every day as Will did.
This year the Sixth Annual William Johnson Invitational was held on October 10 at Travers Park. The Sandpoint girls’ varsity team won the meet scoring 37 points. In second place was Coeur d’Alene with 53 points. In addition, the varsity also placed all of the girls in the top 19 out of the field of 68.
The boys’ varsity placed fourth overall out of 13 teams, finishing behind Coeur d’Alene, Cheney and Coeur d’Alene Charter.
Since they began coaching, Matt and Angie have seen 10 of their athletes continue to compete at the collegiate level. In his second year at Washington State University, Sam Levora is enjoying a successful college running career.
“Matt Burgstahler has worked his way to a varsity position at Saint John’s in his second year, and Mikhaela Woodward just started her collegiate career at Western Washington University and is already competing with the top core group on her team,” said Matt of the recent graduates.
Many of the cross-country runners also compete in track in the spring, giving the team even more opportunities to bond and compete. Like family, they celebrate one another’s successes and help lift one another up when they have fallen. They also have a special angel in heaven watching over them in Will Johnson – surely cheering them on with the smile that lit up the world for the short time he was with us.