In a county dominated by traditional fall sports, one sport has found it challenging to break into the sporting spotlight. While the lack of a stadium and necessary equipment may perplex some, the simplest form of sport continues to grow. At Lansing High School, the boy’s and girl’s cross-country programs continue to grow, catching the lead pack of sports.
In the fall of 2015, the Lansing Bobcats held a roster of 17 student-athletes within the cross-country program. While 17 student-athletes may sound like an average or even a strong number to some, to then Head Coach Christine Eisenhut and her then assistant Becca Lovenheim, this number was frustrating. Why? The program had four classifications of teams, varsity and modified of both the boy’s and girl’s side. While some perceive the sport as one of individual achievement, cross-country is scored as a team sport with teams consisting of five runners. Lovenheim, now the head coach of the Bobcats, remembers back to the early days of her coaching tenure. “In 2015, we had eight varsity girls and five varsity boys, most of the time, but frequently had one missing which meant they didn’t score,” she said. The additional four runners were not eligible to fill in for a missing varsity runner, as they were all members of the boy’s modified squad.
Certainly, no coach would feel confident with those numbers living dangerously close to the minimum requirements. At the time, Eisenhut and Lovenheim were no different. The two took on the task of saving a dwindling number and growing the sport at Lansing. “We had great backing from the school,” said Lovenheim. “They were really excited and supportive of our program.” With the school’s backing and a change in philosophy, the team began to grow. “The biggest credit goes to the kids,” Lovenheim said, “Our athletes wanted to work together.”
Over the next few seasons, the team saw accelerated growth to a point that now the team has doubled in size from the 2015 numbers. In 2018, the Bobcats bolster a roster that places seven girls and 12 boys on the varsity squads. The modified program holds 17 athletes, including six girls, a number that was zero four seasons ago.
Gathering more and more athletes to compete in running, what most athletes will say is the worst part about a sport, is a difficult task, but Lovenheim has a way of reaching out to athletes. “There is no bench in cross-country,” she said. “If you are willing to put in the practice time, you are always going to be able to compete.”
Working with an “all compete” philosophy, Lovenheim feels that the sports where everyone has a role on the team are another important draw. “While some people view cross-country as an individual sport, in actuality, it is definitively a team sport,” she said.
In typical meets, the times and places are combined to determine a team that wins the overall contest. A runner who may finish last among the team could place higher than an opponent, therefore providing the team the overall win. “It matters what your runners, who aren’t necessarily at the front, are doing,” Lovenheim said, “Everyone has a place, everyone matters.” The numbers have certainly shown the impact of spreading this philosophy. The effects of the work of Loveheim and Eisenhut are beginning to expand beyond the high school, and Loveheim hopes to see it continue to grow the sport in the area. “I think there are some very exciting things happening for running in this area,” she said. Lovenheim has seen a simultaneous explosion of running-based programs sprout up and expand within the county while she leads the growth of the Bobcat program. “Running is a life-sport,” she said. “you can take it wherever you go.” Because of this guiding idea, the Lansing cross-country program and running in the area has grown and will continue to grow in the coming years.
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