Success in numbers: T.R. Miller cross country team growing in size
If the T.R. Miller Tiger cross country team does not have a motto of their program, the old proverb “Rome wasn’t built in a day” might be a good one.
The saying which means it takes a long time to create something complicated or impressive and all great works take time to finish fits perfectly to what Tiger coach Rob Atkinson has seen after taking over the program in 2007.
After eight seasons on the sidelines as Brewton Middle School Tigers football coach, Atkinson shifted gears and moved into the head coach for the T.R. Miller High School cross country program.
Atkinson took over for longtime T.R. Miller coach Alan Ash, who stepped down from both his cross country and track positions after 24 seasons with those programs.
In Atkinson’s first season in 2007, T.R. Miller’s programs struggled to come up with the necessary five runners it takes to compete as a team with both its boys and girls.
That fall, the Tigers had six members for the boys while the girls had three runners, two short of being able to compete as a team.
“We had three runners that first year,” Atkinson said. “We actually had five, but two of them got hurt. We had Crystal Higdon (then a senior) and (current sophomore runner and then seventh grader) Shelby Youngblood actually qualify for the state meet that year. With that group and the Nelson runners and twins Karisa and Katie came on the next year along with Amber Terry.
“That gave us a good base to build on and we have been building on that base since then.”
From having no official girls team the first year to low numbers for the boys, the 2010 team this season shows 17 girls and 12 boys.
“We have had the same set of runners now for the past three seasons and they have improved each and every year,” Atkinson said. “Karisa’s time is now an 18:33 for her PR (personal record) and she improved that in her last race. Shelby has stepped up big time for us and is now under 20 minutes. Any time you can get a girl under 20 minutes, that is impressive and we have three on our team now with that time. Amber Nelson is really close to that mark as well.”
Along with the original runners, Atkinson named newcomers like Katie Baggett.
“She has started running for us this season and has brought her time down from 28 minutes to 24 minutes. I have been really impressed with her and she has improved and picked up some slots for us.”
Emmy Granade is another new runner for the Lady Tigers this season.
“These girls have really been working hard in practice and improved their times throughout the year and the whole team has improved,” Atkinson said.
While the girls show 17 runners and the boys 12 runners, of the 12 boys, all but two are new.
“We return Christian Carlson and Ryan Snowden,” Atkinson said. “I am really impressed with the way Rob Stokes, Andrew Pollitte, Grant Youngblood, Logan Lowery, and Snowden have all brought their times down. All five boys are under 20 minutes and that is what it is going to take to get us to state. Our boys are in a tough region. We have a shot at it and if we don’t qualify as a team, we will have some individual kids go to the state meet. That is our goal now to qualify again for the state in November.”
Atkinson said the increase in runners is a great thing.
“I went out and recruited a lot of the boys and girls,” Atkinson said. “We have a lot out of the band. They have a good work ethic. This is not an easy sport to do and the kids in band work hard and I thank Mr. Gainous for allowing them to come out. They practice hard everyday and are running five to six days a week. They are in really good shape and I hope we will continue to improve our shape and continue to peak until Nov. 6.
“Our times are steadily coming down and as the weather continues to cool off, they will keep getting better.”
Both boys and girls run 3.1-mile courses and Atkinson said his team is continuing to work to peak for the November races.
“They are definitely working towards that right now,” Atkinson said. “I appreciate their hard work and work ethic each and everyday at practice. A lot of that has come from coach Ash. He has come up one day a week to help us out. Scott Huff also helps out when I am pulling double duty with football and cross country. They help a great deal.”
Atkinson also mentioned that younger kids are getting in to running with the team with some sixth graders running.
“Will Ruzic has also been helping out,” Atkinson said. “He has some fourth and sixth graders out with about 10 runners. Allie Nelson, Stewart Campbell, Steely Ruzic, Jackson Deatheridge, Nash Diercks, and Travis Carlson and others. We usually run about two days a week.”
Atkinson says the success of the team in recent years, back-to-back state girls cross country runner-ups and winning the state girls title in outdoor track last season after a runner-up spot along with boys winning back-to-back titles has helped the team as well.
“I am proud of and for the kids,” Atkinson said. “Like I said before, they have a strong work ethic and the success helps pull other kids in. We are shooting to win state this season for the girls cross country team.”
While the team boasts of 29 total runners, no one on the team is a senior.
“We have no seniors so our future looks bright,” Atkinson said. “We practice hard and we continue to improve. Another thing is, the fall cross country helps our distance runners in the spring track season. The runner-ups we won the past two seasons and the championship this past spring in track just shows how far we have come. We had six all state runners, two boys, and four girls. We are still young, but have a legit chance to win it this season. We just need to continue to peak.
“We will have a big bull’s eye on our back, but I think we will do fine.”