Cross country takes athleticism, perseverance and commitment to teammates. One team's commitment and camaraderie is still evident 30 years after they ran together.
The Jefferson City High School cross country team members, coaches and cheerleaders from 1980-85 gathered at Municipal Judge Cotton Walker's house for a reunion three decades in the making. The team that once worked together to claim two second place state titles got the chance to share pizza, pictures and old stories that still kept everyone laughing after all this time.
"We got together a few times over the years," Walker said. "Bob (Hull) said there was such a response that we weren't going to fit at Arris (Pizza) this year so I volunteered to host."
While many high school friends drift apart, some of this team were in each other's weddings and many others stay in touch through social media. Joe Kirby, who went on to be an All-American runner at the University of Nebraska and now works at the Missouri Department of Conservation, said cross country breeds discipline and camaraderie unlike any other sport.
"Cross country is a sport where everybody competes," Kirby said. "You're spending a lot of time running on the roads together. It's a kind of different sport. You run until you drop, basically, and having to do all that in high school attracts a different type of people to that sport and keeps everybody together. A lot of these guys who were older than me taught me how to run."
The teammates took the lessons of hard work and perseverance into their lives and have come a long way since high school. Many of them went on to run in college. Hull now coaches at the First Baptist Academy in O'Fallon, Illinois, and Mark Bollinger coaches at Westminster College. Those who aren't involved with cross country anymore said their time on the team affected the way they approached their personal careers.
One of the team's strongest runners, Guy Clark, said learning how people fit in and work together through cross country has helped him lead his team where he works as a regional specialist at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market. While everyone on the team wants to be the best, they all push each other to further the team as a whole.
"I think running cross country affects your life forever," Clark said. "I was first man, but we were all equals. It definitely changed my life in the way I tried to lead. Because it is a competitive team sport, I try to manage in that way, trying to make my team better. I am more successful if the people that I help are more successful. It's about training people to do the best that they can possibly do."
Former assistant coach turned rancher, Marvin Proctor, said he is very proud of how the team has stayed in touch and developed as individuals.
"I wouldn't have missed this for the world," Proctor said. "To see these guys and the different directions that they've gone and what they've accomplished, it's fantastic."
Proctor reminisced with Tory Roberts, a member of the first girls team in 1981, about how she used to steal away to Central Dairy during practice runs. Proctor smiled and nodded, saying she was a good runner despite the ice cream breaks, so he let it slide.
"We had thought we were getting one over on (Proctor)," Roberts joked. "Turns out he knew the whole time."
Former team head coach David Harris video chatted in from Nebraska, where he now leads the Huskers collegian cross country team. People passed a laptop around, catching up with their old coach and talking about how their families have grown.
Harris shared one of the group's favorite stories with Clark. During his junior year, Clark was hit in the head by a stray golf ball and ran the upcoming race with a likely concussion. He still finished, but came in second for the team for the first time that year. The team awarded his pain and effort with a hard hat trophy at the subsequent award ceremony.
"Haven't got hit with any golf balls have you?" Harris asked Clark as he approached the web cam.
"No, but I've been staying away from golf courses," Clark replied before telling his old coach that his years on the team were some of the best of his life — "Other than being a dad, of course," he said as his son, Miles, walked over.