It was a beautiful late afternoon at Sunset Hills Park, perfect weather for the Valpo Jamboree Cross Country Meet on August 21.
“You can feel a bit of fall in the air,” one of the parents commented to me as a breeze blew across the field.
Along with that “bit of fall”, one could feel the excitement in the air as packs of students jogged passed, warming up for the three mile race they were about to run. In total, Valparaiso High School has 71 students involved in its Cross Country Program, one of the bigger groups in the history of the program.
As parents took off sprinting towards the starting line and various other positions on the course to watch the girls race, one could not help but join them. After the starting pistol went off and everyone recovered from the adrenaline rush, it was impossible to not join in cheering for the Valpo girls. After they swept the top eight positions, I spoke to the man in charge of the girls team, Coach Adam Nellessen. Nellessen, along with coaching the girls team, is also the head coach of the girls track team and the boys swim team.
Nellessen was quick to tell the basis of his coaching strategy.
“We stress training together; group running, that sort of thing. The fact that they're working together helps them,” he said. “This isn't just about learning how to run – I tell the girls that they're presented with decisions every day. Whether or not to go on the early morning run, whether or not to push harder on the last 100 meters of a race. It may sound silly, but it helps teach them life lessons.”
I then had to sprint off to the boys starting line as the sound of the pistol resounded across the hills. Several dozen Valparaiso High School boys thundered across the grass, sprinting to get the top position. As the Valpo boys secured a healthy lead, clinching most of the top spots, the boys coach, Mike Prow, was eager to talk.
“We had three goals this year. Recruit the biggest team, which we accomplished with 51 boys this year. We want to win the Duneland Athletic Conference against Crown Point and Chesterton, and we want to become State Champions,” he said. “We have a good shot as of now. We finished 7th at State last year and we've only lost one top runner since then.”
Prow, who coached Nellessen in 1997, shared a similar coaching style to his previous pupil.
“We try to teach them blending in to be a good team. To not put yourself first, to be honest and fair,” he added. “It's more important to teach them to be good men. One of our runners won the State Mental Attitude Award last year, and he just went off to Yale.”
“I grew up here, I went to school here, and now I coach here," Nellessen said. "I bleed green. I want people to focus on the positive coming out of this school, whether it be cross country or academics. The happiness I see when one of the girls meets a goal makes everything worthwhile. We do it to see the growth in them. It's their program, not mine.”
“I know we have a lot of kids who would appreciate the communities support; I just saw a guy whose son ran back in 1990 who came out to support the race today,” Prow added.
The next Valparaiso High School cross country meet is next Tuesday against Crown Point and Chesterton.
To find out more about the Valparaiso High School Boys Cross Country Team, click here!
To find out more about the Valparaiso High School Girls Cross Country Team, click here!