By PAUL A. BARRA
SPRING VALLEY — High school cross country competition involves running 5,000 meters (3.1 miles) across fields, up hills and through woods. Training is a solitary grind of running and more running without any games or scrimmages to enliven the drudgery and build comradeship.
At Bishop England High School, however, student athletes have fashioned a real team from individual racers.
“The girls are really close,” said Ashley Sherrer, a senior and leading runner. “We go out to dinner together every week after practice, and we’re with each other six days a week.”
The team also prays together, a Hail Mary before each race, even though all the runners are not Catholics. Sherrer, a member of St. Joseph Parish in West Ashley, said: “We taught the non-Catholics how to pray it.”
There are non-Catholics on the boys’ team also, and they have assumed a different approach. John Howard, an Episcopalian who calls himself “a left-footed Catholic,” is the number one runner this year.
“We have Jewish guys on the team, so we say a nondenominational prayer, to be ecumenical. We’re a close team and pretty functional.”
Just how functional the BE cross-country teams are is a matter of record. Last year, in the program’s second year of existence, the girls won the state championship, and the boys finished in the top 10. This year, after losing most of the starting teams to graduation, both boys and girls won the Lower State title and finished in the top five at the state meet.
“These kids enjoy running, and we get excellent parental support,” head coach Tony Colizzi said. “That makes a big difference.”
At the state meet on Nov. 3 at the Sandhills Research Park north of Columbia, every runner had parents cheering him or her on, according to Colizzi. His own parents came from Virginia to watch the Running Bishops compete.
With all the camaraderie and team spirit, however, long-distance running is still essentially a lonely sport. Brittney Inman, a sophomore from Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant, said that she was willing to endure a certain amount of tedium to accomplish an initial goal.
“I tried it to get in shape for basketball. Then, I really liked it. You can get a lot of satisfaction from pushing yourself. The time alone (on the trails) brings out all of your thoughts and feelings and gives you a feel for what you can do and accomplish,” Inman said.
Matt DeAntonio, one of the members of the boys’ team, agreed: “It’s rewarding to push yourself, to test your limits.”
There are no individual champions on either Bishop England cross country team; in fact, only Sherrer finished in the top 10 at the state meet.
“When they win, they deserve it,” said assistant coach Mike Arney. “There are no super-athletes on this team. Everyone’s a part of it.”
The coach cited the case of Doug Miller, who was too far back in the pack to win but who passed two runners from a rival school in the last 100 meters to better his team’s score. That philosophy was echoed by junior Amanda Epting, who was less concerned after the race with her own time than with the school’s score.
“Times don’t count so much. What counts is how the team did,” Epting said.
Other members of the varsity Running Bishops are Ross Appel, Lawton Stroud, Paul Bonvallet, Lowndes Sinkler, Craig Millar, Stephanie Ruotolo, Grayson Wallace, Lauren Stewart, Sarah Budds and Maura Lawson.