Bangor High School boys cross-country team warmup during practice at the school Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Gabor Degre

If you believe in the power of numbers, beware of the Bangor High School cross-country program this fall.

The Rams will require two school buses to get to Friday’s meet at Waterville to accommodate the 64 runners on the boys and girls squads.

That represents the continuation of a steady increase in popularity for the sport at the Broadway school, up from 38 runners during Roger Huber’s first year as head coach in 2017 and 45 last fall.

“I think more people are just spreading the word about what running can do for people,” Bangor senior Lydia Gilmore said. “Last year during indoor track we got multiple people who came up to coach Huber and asked if they could sign up for cross-country because they just saw how close the team was, how much of a family dynamic there is.

“So many people are looking for that kind of team, and I know I’m pretty biased, but in my mind I think it’s the perfect sport.”

Credit: Gabor Degre

Not all the runners have conference, state and regional championships on their minds when they begin practice on the trails behind the school each afternoon. Some have picked up the sport for personal fitness, others to get in shape for different sports they’ll play later in the year.

“The kids love the workouts,” Bangor athletic administrator Steve Vanidestine said, “and we’ve got kids leaving other sports for good reasons because they’re good runners and their friends say, ‘You’ve got to come over to cross-country.’

“In some cases they’re better runners than they were in the sport they were in before.”

No matter the individual motivation, Huber and assistant coach Alecia Palmer keep track of all of the runners the same way. Huber develops individualized year-round training plans for each team member in conjunction with his work as the distance-running coach for Bangor’s indoor and outdoor track programs.

“It’s easier for me at the end of the cross-country season to tell a kid take the next two or three weeks off because I can show them I’ve got a plan to build you back up with the hope the kids will be less injured by the time they get to their last season and that they won’t be burned out by that time.”

The runners are buying into Huber’s system to the point that approximately 45 team members combined to run nearly 6,000 miles during the summer program. That easily exceeded the coach’s goal of 5,000 miles and nearly doubled the training total a year earlier during the program’s first year of organized summer training.

“It means the kids are invested in themselves, they’re invested in the sport, they’re invested in the team, and they’re going to make the most of that investment in practice,” Huber said. “It also allows the coaches to start more race-specific work earlier in the season rather than spending the first five weeks of a 10-week season working on endurance.

Credit: Gabor Degre

“I tell the kids I’ve got two priorities. The first one is to get them to the starting line uninjured and healthy. The second priority is to get them to the finish line as quickly as possible.”

The enthusiasm within the program has evolved into confidence that Bangor cross-country will represent a chance for the Rams to shine competitively among their Class A peers around the state.

That’s particularly true this fall for the boys team, which returns a strong nucleus of sophomores and juniors from last year’s squad that finished second at the state championships.

Sophomore Dan McCarthy, the top freshman at both last year’s Festival of Champions in Belfast and the state championships, is back to lead the way. He is joined by juniors Gordon Doore and Gavin Sychterz, sophomores Simon Socolow and Fritz Oldenburg, and a newcomer to the program in junior James Fahey, who trailed only McCarthy and Doore during the Rams’ first regular-season meet on Friday.

Gilmore and junior Erin McCarthy pace a similarly youthful Bangor girls squad that also features junior Anna McDonald, sophomore Jasmine Knapp, and freshmen Carly Hayward and Bridget Frazier.

“I’m very optimistic,” Huber said. “We’re literally starting this season better than we were at the end of last season.”

And while Gilmore acknowledges the competitive nature of the upcoming meets, she also savors the considerable value in being able to share those experiences with so many teammates.

“At the end of the day the speed of your runners is going to be more important than the number of runners you have, but you’re never going to run your best race alone,” Gilmore said. “You’re always going to run your best race having someone shoulder-to-shoulder with you. Even if there are people who aren’t necessarily here to compete and beat their times, they’ll still motivate each other and play off each other.

“Everyone plays a role, even if it’s not points. It’s just one big team.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...