Miles of respect
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
To Warwick’s cross country team, it’s known simply as ‘Radar Hill.’
The beast is home to Mount Gretna.
And as workouts go for the Warriors, there are none more demanding.
"Those hills are pretty tough up there," senior Michael Urban acknowledged.
There is one thing that the Warwick runners can always count on, however. Regardless of how many loops they do on those hills, or how often they go, their coaches will be right beside them the whole time. The blood, sweat and tears that the coaches sacrifice while training with their runners haven’t gone unnoticed, as senior captains Jordan Garner, Rachel Mueller, Urban and Amy Wood explained.
"You can’t really complain about a workout if the coaches are doing it with you," Mueller said.
It’s not just Radar Hill that head coach Jenny Sassaman and assistants Matt and Amy Bomberger and Dan Shelly do with the runners.
It’s every workout.
The benefits for the team are many. Among them is that the training regimen brings the runners and coaches closer together as a bonding experience. It also gives the coaches added respect and credibility with the teams.
"They’re awesome," Mueller said. "I think we’re really blessed to have the coaches that we do. They’re all very passionate about the sport and always interested in learning the latest and greatest in running."
"You have more respect for them because they’re doing (the workouts) with us," senior Garner remarked. "They’re not just telling us what to do and watching us. They’re doing it with us."
Knowing that the coaches are experiencing the same kind of pain as the runners during workouts makes for a good support system.
"They always know how we feel," Wood said. "It’s kinda easy for them to stand on the sidelines when we’re doing something hard and be like, ‘Yeah, come on, you can do it.’ So when they run with us, they know what’s going on."
"They know what kind of pain we go through when we train," Urban added. "They wouldn’t put us through something that they could never do or something crazy like that. Also, when we’re running a race, they know exactly how we feel and that helps."
The idea for Sassaman originated when she was an athlete at IUP. Her coach with the Crimson Hawks was Ed Fry, who won the Sub-Master’s 10,000-meter race in 1975 and was a role model for his runners.
"He told us, ‘If you can keep up with me for specific workouts, you will win this certain race,’" Sassaman recalled. "I wanted to continue that here and it’s really cool to be able to continue that legacy (at Warwick) where we have a running staff."
Sassaman, at 43 years old, can still hold her own. Matt and Amy Bomberger are 27 and 25, respectively, while Shelly, a former Warwick cross country/track runner, is 30 years old.
Besides the bonding, there is also the matter of helping the runners with the pace.
"It’s kind of embarrassing for some of the guys if they can’t keep up with me," Sassaman laughed. "When you can’t keep up with 43-year-old woman, who’s old and cranky, it motivates a lot of the guys if I can go beat them up switchbacks in the summer."
It motivates the girls as well.
Asked if she has ever beaten any of the coaches, Mueller said, "Not coach Bomberger, but it’s quite satisfying to beat coach Sassaman. It’s something that I work for."
Conversely, the coaches know that they have to prepare themselves in the off-season to be able to keep up in practices and not get hurt. Matt Bomberger, who played soccer and ran track at Warwick, recalls a winter that he didn’t run a lot of miles and he ended up paying the price.
"I hopped in a workout and I didn’t bounce back as well as I normally do," he said.
"There’s times I will sit down with my family for a meal, but I don’t eat," Sassaman said, "or I eat something different because I need to prepare myself for a workout and I want to be on top of my A-game if I’m staying with these girls. I want to be at my best for them."
Bomberger notices the bond that it has created. Plus, running with the athletes enables the coaches to keep an eye out for their safety on the roads.
"I like the connection. I like it a lot," he said. "The other thing that’s real big that I think the community should hear is that we try to spread out among the kids so they are safe. That’s something important to us too."
Sassaman acknowledged that, as she gets older, the workouts get more difficult. But she plans to keep doing them as long as she can.
"It’s a good thing when the girls can beat me," Sassaman said. "Some of them are now, which is a good thing."
More RUNNERS, page B-5