By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Tomorrow the South Laurel girls and North Laurel boys’ cross country teams compete in the State Cross Country Meet at the Kentucky Horse Park. The North Laurel girls will also be represented by talented seventh grader Sidney King. The South Laurel boys’ Trey Valentine made the field.
Should you choose to attend or root for these dedicated athletes, there is one thing you might need to know. Unlike most varsity sports, you must root for South Laurel if you root for North Laurel and vice versa.
“It is nice. I wish other people in other sports would see how we react to each other,” North Laurel coach Rachel Gaynor said.
At the region meet at Wayne County it was hard to determine who was coaching whom. Gaynor would yell just as loud for the South Laurel runner as she did her own. South Laurel coach Carrie Kirby was stationed at another spot on the course to encourage her runners and the county rivals. They would inform the runners of their times and places as well as cheer.
“We planned on the bus ride up here where the coaches could be at to yell at all the kids. We are two teams, but we are trying to figure out how to get their individuals (to the state meet) and how to get our girl individuals there,” Gaynor said.
It goes even deeper than cheering for a team that could beat you. These two teams want to win not only for themselves, but so the other school can get runners qualified for the state. The top teams in the region meet qualify for the state meet. Then the next five runners that are not on a qualifying team also earn a spot in the field. When South Laurel edged out West Jessamine for a spot in the state, Kirby also knew that meant it left spots open for North Laurel’s King to make the field.
“If South had not qualified it would have taken two or three spots from Sidney,” Kirby said. “We are so cohesive. We ride to all the meets together. We share the expenses and we cheer for each other.”
The running joke among some cross country officials is to ask Kirby or Gaynor where their sister is if they see one without the other.
It might not be practical in other sports for teams from different schools to ride together. Usually games are not played at the same location, unlike track meets. There are teams with larger rosters and sports more emotionally engaging than the camaraderie of cross country.
That makes it no less refreshing to see athletes that understand competing at a high level does not mean you have to think less of your opponent. And that sometimes rooting for the other guy can push us all a little further.