A Chaotic Ballet

There’s no better place than the charming stampede that marks the start of every Harding Academy lower school cross country race.
FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO SEE HARDING’S LOWER SCHOOL students on the move there’s no better place than the charming stampede that marks the start of every cross country race. “Everything in the end works out beautifully, but it is a chaotic ballet,” says coach Catie Caldwell. “It’s inspiring, because you see everything, especially with the kindergartners. You see the kid out there who’s running full tilt; you see the kid out there who’s just an average middle-of-the-pack runner; and you see the kid who’s out there picking daisies. And they all finish.”

For many lower school students, the cross country team is their first entry into athletics at Harding, and there’s never a shortage of participants. During the 2016–17 school year, 130 Harding runners competed. “It’s open to anyone who just wants to try running,” says Caldwell, a first grade teacher who ends every workout with the distribution of popsicles. “All I ask is that you have a decent pair of shoes and a
Harding shirt.”

The season lasts five weeks and includes three races in the Overbrook League, which is made up of mostly parochial schools. Races are three-quarters of a mile for kindergarten through second graders, and a mile for third through fifth graders, but race participation is optional. Boys and girls race separately, except for the kindergartners. The only cost is for parking on race days at Overbrook. Meets typically include more than 20 schools, and Harding has a proud history of usually bringing the largest contingent of competitors.

Five faculty members served as assistant coaches last year, and parents are eagerly recruited to help. “We have to have parents, because we have up to 150 children some years, and 20-plus of those are in kindergarten,” says Caldwell. “The coaches and parents are imperative to our team.” 

Caldwell is an experienced distance runner who has won four marathons. She has coached the lower school team for 13 years and sees it as a good starting point, regardless of a child’s ultimate goals in athletics. “There are very few sports that don’t require running,” says Caldwell. “I feel it’s very important that we train the entire athlete, so we spend time doing more than just running. We play games that encourage agility as well as help overall fitness. We do push-ups and core training.” The team motto is: “Some wish for it, we work for it,” which also serves as the team cheer before every practice and meet.

“I don’t care how fast you are, I don’t care if you’re the slowest person out there,” says Caldwell. “If you’re doing your best, and you’re racing for your best time, that’s what is important to me.”

Parents interested in signing up students for the 2017 season are invited to attend an informational meeting on August 23 at 3:30 PM in the Gym Lobby.
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