Photo illustration by Emily Depaz.
Photo illustration by Emily Depaz.

Middle School Programs Feed Cross Country Success

December 7, 2021

Since joining the IESA in 1998, the South girls’ cross country team has advanced to the state cross country meet 13 times, including the past nine years consecutively. The Lincoln girls’ cross country team has seen similar success, qualifying for state 17 times in the past 22 years. 

Like the middle schools, Prospect is also known for its very successful cross country program. This year, on Saturday, November 6, the girls program finished 2nd at the IHSA state meet. This was the highest finish in girls’ program history. 

Head coach of the Prospect girls’ cross country team Pete Wintermute makes an effort to build relationships with the middle school girls before they even step foot in Prospect High School. This includes coaching them over the summer during the summer cross country camps, and hosting the Prospect Invitational, a middle school meet run and hosted by Prospect’s cross country teams. 

Steve Shaffer, the head coach of Lincoln Middle School’s boys’ and girls’ cross country teams, explains that Wintermute’s efforts to get to know the athletes while they are in middle school help make that transition to high school training easier. The girls are much more comfortable in high school when they have already met their coach and most of their teammates.

“They feel like they’re part of the family coming into it,” Shaffer said. “Instead of being nervous in the beginning, they know what to expect.”

Shaffer believes that Wintermute and himself have very similar coaching styles. They both want the kids to enjoy running first, and have faith that success will come with that.

“At the end of the day, [I] want every kid to have that positive experience, to love running, to love their teammates, to learn something about themselves and to grow through the sport.” Shaffer said. “[I] still want them to have the same experience regardless of how talented the team is.”

Wintermute appreciates the middle school coaches like Shaffer and Sophia Vassos and Dave Fritner (head coaches of South Middle School’s cross country teams) because they are the ones who get the athletes into the sport of cross country in the first place.

“One of the biggest things [the middle school programs] do is [that] they create a passion for running and an excitement about our sport … many of those types of aspects carry on with those athletes when they come in high school,” Wintermute said.

Having 11-14 year-olds run at such a competitive level in middle school helps them continue to succeed in their high school athletic careers.

“I think having feeder schools around here is very influential in terms of the type of success in all the high school programs.” Wintemute said.

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