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For all the success the Los Alamos Hilltopper cross country program has accumulated over the years, there is one thing it has lacked.
A feeder program.
That shortfall — surely to the chagrin of every other cross country program in the state — will be rectified this upcoming school year.
Los Alamos Middle School will offer for the first time a seventh- and eighth-grade cross country program in 2008. Exact details of the season are still being worked out, but the components are there already.
Hilltopper co-head coach Rob Hipwood, for one, is ecstatic to see this program come about.
“We felt like it would be a good thing,” Hipwood said. “First, here’s not many sports options for kids at the middle school who are not playing football, volleyball or club soccer. There’s just not many options in the fall. Then there’s the selfish part. This will help the high school cross country program.”
The Hilltopper cross county program already boasts some of the biggest participation numbers of any sport at the high school and the middle school program will very likely help add to that number.
Hipwood said that Hilltopper athletic director Vicki Nelms gave the program’s start-up her full support, as did officials from LAMS.
In the early planning stages, Hipwood said, there was some question as to whether the program should be for seventh- and eighth-graders or just focus on seventh graders, as eighth-graders are already eligible to participate in the high school program.
The decision was made to include the eighth-graders at the middle school so that beginning eighth-grade runners could try cross country out before signing on to the highly-intensive high school program.
Those eighth-graders who want to continue their seasons at the high school will have the option to do so.
Jesse Taylor was selected to coach the program at LAMS, but could not be reached for comment.
“Jesse is very, very qualified in terms of his running background, and he has a lot of experience with kids,” Hipwood said.
Because this is the first year for the sport at LAMS, there’s still plenty both coaching-wise and teamwise that will have to be ironed out.
“A lot of it is going to be learning as we go,” Hipwood said. “We’re a little bit behind the 8-ball because most communities already have cross country at their middle schools.”
Most schools in Santa Fe have middle school programs, as does Pojoaque, Taos and several other communities around northern New Mexico.
In middle school competition, competitors usually run courses in the area of 1.5-2 miles.
At Los Alamos’ 2007 home meet, held in October, local elementary school runners got a taste of what they can expect at LAMS.
At that meet, Rob and Kathy Hipwood organized an elementary school 1-mile run that took place in between the sub-varsity and varsity runs. While Rob Hipwood said no one was sure going what kind of turnout the run would have, but nearly 100 runners from around the district took part in the 1-mile run.
The plan at this point is to have the LAMS Hawks work out with the Hilltoppers once a week throughout the season.
“We want to make it an extension of the high school program,” Hipwood said.
The LAMS season is scheduled to go on for about eight weeks. The teams will officially start their season Aug. 11.