Photo by Sam Chandler.
SMCS cross country
The Shades Mountain Christian School youth cross-country team just completed its second year of competition (not all team members photographed).
Dave Scherbarth, the athletics director at Shades Mountain Christian School, received an uproarious response to a simple question he posed on a cool, gray Saturday morning earlier this fall.
“Runners, are you ready?” he hollered through a speaker.
After a brief pause, the booming reply from a flurry of energetic youngsters came through loud and clear, “Yeah!”
A moment later, they were off.
Now wrapping up its second wildly successful season, the Shades Mountain Christian School youth cross-country team has been a hit with both students and parents, opening the door to competition at an early age while teaching valuable life lessons along the way.
“They learn that they’re not going to quit, and whatever they start, they’re going to finish,” Shades Mountain youth cross-country coach Mindy Barber said. “It’s not about being first. It’s about beating your own times each week. But the biggest thing is, when we go through life, there are going to be things that we don’t like or don’t enjoy or don’t always feel good, but we have to finish as we’re running for the Lord.”
With a strong emphasis on perseverance, constant echoes of encouragement and innovative ways to make running fun, the team has grown to nearly 50 members since its inception last fall, with runners ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.
To help facilitate team community, especially considering the wide age bracket, Barber has established a buddy system that pairs younger runners with an older team member.
On practice days, the older runners will finish up their distance runs with one of their younger teammates, making sure they’re staying safe along the course.
“To watch them partner together and really work as brothers and sisters, that’s what it’s all about,” Barber said. “The relationship goes throughout the school. We say it’s one big family, and it’s not just a cliché. It really is one big family.”
In addition to traditional distance runs, Barber has found ways to make running a more appealing activity to her young audience, incorporating fun conditioning games such as capture the flag and Indian runs into every practice.
“I usually have some kids that don’t want to run, but we just tell them to come and run, and they forget that they’re running,” Barber said. “They don’t even know that they’re conditioning.”
Over the course of the fall, the team participated in five meets, competing in the Birmingham Regional Independent Athletic Association along with schools such as Westminster Christian, Jefferson Christian Academy and Highlands School.
At every meet, which was held either on the Shades Mountain Christian or Westminster campus, races were divided into four coed divisions: kindergarten, first/second grade, third/fourth grade and fifth/ sixth grade. Each division ran varying race distances, with the youngest runners completing a half-mile course and the oldest runners completing a 1½-mile course.
Claire Davis, whose son Isaiah is a first-grader on the Shades Mountain Christian team, spoke highly of her family’s cross-country experience.
“The coaches are so great. They love them so much and just genuinely care about their kids,” Davis said. “I’m excited this school has this program because that’s not even a normal program for public schools or anything like that.”
Over the course of the season, Barber, a second-grade teacher who’s completed multiple marathons, has seen her runners make great strides on the course, progressively lowering their times and improving their finish positions. And to her, that’s what makes it all so worthwhile.
“That’s an encouragement to me to see their faces to know that they can do it, and the key being that we can’t do it in our own power, but we can do anything through Christ,” Barber said.