By Sarah Mansheim
“We may not make you great runners, but we’ll make you great people.”
Greenbrier East High School assistant cross country coach Deva Wagner attributes this quote to Head Coach Jerry Long, and she says this philosophy is integral to the distance running program, both at East and at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, where Long also serves as head coach.
“We really focus on growing the kids as good people, not just as athletes,” says Wagner, who joined the coaching team this year. She has high regard for Long’s coaching style, which pairs competition with academic achievement and social skills.
“We have a zero-tolerance for bullying on our team,” says Wagner, and in addition, the student athlete contract that all runners sign also includes academic guidelines that demand school come first.
Not that the runners aren’t competitive. In every race, runners are competing against each other and their own time. In fact, on Thursday, October 23, Greenbrier East will play host to the AAA Region III cross country meet. Wagner says 11 teams will compete on the school’s 3.1 mile course, which stretches from the State Fairgrounds to the high school.
The public is welcome to attend the meet, and may gather either at the fairgrounds, at the back of the parking lot near the soccer fields, or at Spartan Stadium at East. The meet begins at 1 PM.
The East team has 30 runners competing in the meet.
Meanwhile, says Wagner, with Long coaching the middle school team, a new crop of runners is being groomed to succeed at East.
The road to success begins at the beginning of the season with all types of runners–beginners to veterans. The focus, especially on beginning runners, is staying injury free, says Wagner. The program, which ends in November, focuses on running and strength training. Runners work to strengthen their core muscles and leg muscles, but, she says, in the long term, “the best way to learn to run is to run.”
Often, says Wagner, kids join the cross country team in order to get in shape for basketball season.
“Cross country is kind of a secondary sport around here. Kids do it to get in shape for their primary sport. We want cross country to grow as a primary sport of dedicated runners. That’s what’s great about Coach Long being at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School. He’s building a team of dedicated runners.”
Long is assisted by Kim Sexton at EGMS.