Chieftain red up before dawn: Tonganoxie cross country continues its 1st practice tradition
The Tonganoxie High cross country team again played the part of early bird Monday when the team gathered for its midnight run.
Current coach John Tollefson has continued a tradition Phil Williams started — open practice at 12:01 a.m. the first day of preseason practice for Kansas high schools.
This year, the tradition continued Monday.
For the some 40 runners who came out for their first practice of the season, Tollefson also explained the symbolism of the start — the program isn’t wasting time. No time like the present.
“It’s our first opportunity to run,” he said. “We’re ready to start.”
Runners gathered outside the main entrance at Tonganoxie High School.
Participants made sure they had all the proper paperwork, as THS secretary Mary Welsh was at her desk inside the school for assistance.
THS runners were wide awake for the middle-of-the-night run. As has been commonplace, they wore various glow sticks and other accessories that illuminated them as they ran.
Parents also were on hand.
Tollefson met with them briefly to go over responsibilities as they took up shop at different points along the designated course. Runners headed from THS to the middle school/elementary school campus and then downtown and back to the high school.
Assistant coach Jodie Smith and Tollefson then got the team lined up for stretching in the THS parking lot. Tollefson stressed that though the atmosphere of the run was fun, runners needed to make the stretching session worthwhile.
A few minutes later, the runners let loose for their run.
Tollefson is excited for the new season. The girls team lost a strong senior class, but nine freshman have joined the squad.
On the boys side, Chandler Hamman was the lone varsity runner lost to graduation from last year’s regional champion team, so expectations are high.
Monday’s practice also has served as a field trip opportunity.
The team heads to IHOP, per tradition, after the first practice.
Senior Mathia Slinkard said she enjoys the camaraderie of officially gathering for the first practice and then the team bonding that takes place at the restaurant.
Slinkard said blueberry pancakes are her favorite.
“With the fruit, it’s healthy,” she said with a laugh. “Ok, it’s not.”
For fellow senior Calvin Morgan, pancakes are a must.
Usually, that also means drenching the breakfast staple with the many IHOP table syrups, sans the butter pecan.
In recent years, other fall sports have followed suit with the festive practice.
Football and soccer have gone under the lights, while the volleyball team has been in the gymnasium. Night golf really isn’t a viable option for the girls golf team, so they don’t do the early practice.
This year, though, cross country was the lone sport to be practicing at midnight.
New Kansas State High School Activities Association rules prohibit two-a-day practices as they have been previously conducted the first week of preseason practice.
Teams are limited to three hours of continuous practice. A walkthrough session can last an hour on those days, but must be separated by three hours of rest.
Players who have participated in five days of practice can begin with two-a-day sessions on the sixth day, with a recovery day to follow.
On days with multiple practices, no single practice can last longer than three hours and the two can’t exceed five hours.
Also, beginning practice day 6, double practice sessions are allowed, but can’t take place on consecutive days. They must be separated by a single practice day or a rest/recovery day.
The cross country team went ahead with its routine that has been tradition for years. Depsite a muggy morning, the team had its first season of the practice in the wee hours of the morning.
“We have 10 weeks to get faster and stronger six days a week and I think we are going to have an absolutely tremendous season,” Tollefson told his team before Monday’s run.
The squad opens the season at 9 a.m. Sept. 1 with a meet at Lansing.