In the face of poor weather and funding challenges, the Hettinger cross-country team has been running strong, preparing for the upcoming state cross country meet in October. However, for many cross-country volunteers and participants, reaching the state meet has required more than just running and conditioning.
Over the past two years, Hettinger Public School reduced funding for the local cross-country team, putting the program’s future at risk. According to Head Coach Stephanie Howe, the school board dropped funding for transportation, activity/entry fees, and coach pay. Howe said the school board made these changes with the reasoning that not enough students were involved in the sport and the expenses were consistently too high.
“Last year, [the school] decided not to pay for anything, except for the NDHSAA fee…” said Howe.
Despite the lack of funds, the team hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down in part because of a supportive local community. Following the budget decision, Head Coach Howe and Assistant Coach Zeta Drolc became volunteer coaches while local businesses financially supported the team.
“Thankfully [sponsors] have been able to keep us floating through the season with the funds that we have raised…” she said. “Without the sponsor, we wouldn’t be operating.”
Currently, the Hettinger cross-country program has six girls and four boys of varying ages participating. Mitchell Daley and Sidra Sadowsky run on Varsity, Cassie Kindsfater runs on both Junior Varsity and Varsity, Julia Daley runs on Junior Varsity, and Sienna Burwick, Kelly Schauer, Riley Hasbrouck, Kyler Schalesky, Samantha Salazar, and Trevor Daley all run on the Junior High level.
Howe said that Hettinger’s team numbers are comparable to other small towns across North Dakota. Out of 45 Class B cross-country teams, 22 have less than 5 girl runners.
Because the cross-country team is composed of mostly young individuals, Howe said she has high hopes that the program will continue to develop and grow in future years.
“Right now, we have a young team,” said Howe, “and we will not have any seniors leaving our team this year.”
Because of the wide age range, the Hettinger team does not currently have enough runners to form a point-scoring team in one specific division at competitions. Even still, Howe said her students have competed well individually this season.
“The hard part is that we have to have 5 kids on each team to place, but individually, all the kids have improved their time,” said Howe. “I want them to enjoy it. I don’t want it to be about placing.”
Looking forward to the state competition, Howe was optimistic for her competing runners.
“I think if I can keep everyone healthy in flue season, which is impossible, I think that some of my older kids are going to do very well,” she said. “I think we have a personal record, which is what I strive for at every meet.”