By Mike LaBella
---- — A team of young runners based at Bradford Elementary School has been running fast and flying high, literally.
On Dec. 14, members of the Bradford Huskies youth certified USA Track & Field Travel Cross Country team flew to San Antonio, Texas to compete in the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships.
It is the most elite youth cross country competition in the country, said head coach, Matthew Castonguay.
The results were impressive for such a young group. The team of fleet-of-foot youngsters worked hard to get there and maintained a positive attitude, which carried the day, Castonguay said.
“They understand that to be a highly competitive cross country runner, it’s more about the mind than the body,” he said. “You need to stay positive and tell yourself that you can do it.”
Eight members of the Huskies age 9 and 10 team along with a 12-year-old member competed at the Junior Olympics event. They were: Benjamin Craven, 9; Connor Flynn, 9; James Crippen, 9; Ean LaRochelle, 9; Ryan Connolly, 9; Patrick Connolly, 10; Joseph Gallo, 10; Collin Daugherty, 10, and Connor Alessi, 12.
Connor Alessi was the Huskies’ top finisher. He competed in a field of 391 runners and finished 69th with a time of 11:00 on the 3K course.
Alessi, a seventh grader at the Hunking Middle School, said it was “awesome” to travel to Texas and meet new people. He said he felt excited and nervous at the same time.
“I ate as healthy as I could and got lots of rest and I practiced five days a week,” Alessi said about preparations for the event.
The Huskies’ 9 and 10-year-old boys division came in 16th place overall in a field of 28 teams. The group did not qualify for the national event last year.
It takes a lot of resources to send a team of kids across the country. In the case of the Huskies, the team holds three fundraising events each year to help pay their dues, including USATF and AAU membership and competition fees, and travel lodging. Their families pay the cost of transportation and often accompany them on these trips.
USATF’s Junior Olympic Cross Country program is made up of developmental meets in many of USATF’s 57 local Associations, which lead to Association Championships, and then to 15 Regional Championships.
Castonguay said thousands participate, but only the best of the best met at the Nationals in Texas.
After training extremely hard since last August, these young athletes competed in a series of elite qualification competitions starting at the New England Championships in Smithfield, R.I., on Nov. 17 and the Regional Championships in Wappingers Falls, NY on Nov. 24. Only the top 30 individual finishers and top five teams in each race at the Regional events qualified for the Nationals.
Of the 35 member Huskies traveling team, only nine made the final cut, qualifying them to compete in Texas.
“This is the third time (second year in a row) in the team’s existence that at least nine members have fulfilled this accomplishment,” Castonguay said.
The Huskies’ 9-year-old boys division faced teams from across the country and took second place overall, making it the team’s best finish since 2009. The 11 and 12 year old boys division came in ninth place overall at the meet in Georgia.
About the Bradford Huskies:
The Bradford Huskies are a school-based running team certified by USA Track & Field (USATF) and Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) located in Bradford, Massachusetts. The team is made up of Haverhill students in grades 2-8.
The program’s goals are to provide students with a challenging athletic opportunity that promotes running, living a healthy lifestyle, and positive sportsmanship within a competitive atmosphere.
Team Motto: Persevere-Believe-Win!
For more information, contact Matthew Castonguay at Bradford Elementary School at 978-374-2443 or firstname.lastname@example.org.