Cross Country: Libby in it for the long haul

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Coach Rodd Zeiler leads the Logger high school and middle school cross country teams in a motivational crossing of the finish line during practice on Aug. 17. (Ben Kibbey/The Western News)

At the start of a new season, Libby Logger cross country shows potential for growth of both the individuals and the teams.

With smaller numbers compared to other sports, Head Coach Rodd Zeiler is the only coach for both the Libby Middle School and Libby High School teams. Yet, he is working on adding to his plate, as he strives to build the junior cross country program locally.

“We’re one of the very schools that really don’t have a large junior XC program,” Zeiler said.

Most high school sports rely on some kind of feeder program to get student athletes interested at an early age. That early competition builds toward a high school career where they are already conditioned and have some amount of experience.

It also gives them an opportunity to find out which sports they enjoy, and develop a love of the sport they choose.

But early opportunities to compete in distance running are limited. The Libby Elementary hosts Runnerfell each year for ages 3 to 16, with distances of up to a mile tailored to the age groups.

Fifth and sixth graders can also attend a two-week camp in the summer that allows them to compete in the Libby Invitational at J. Neils Memorial Park, Zeiler said.

But there is no natural progression, as in some other sports, guiding student athletes from a young age toward participation in cross country.

Still, there is the potential for future athletes to learn to love running at an early age.

Zeiler said he sees potential in a culture shift as more people see fitness not simply as a way to look good, but as a part of a healthy lifestyle they can carry with them throughout their lives.

That emphasis on fitness for the sake of personal health ties in well with cross country, he said.

“There’s this energy about getting fit,” he said. And it’s not just parents getting their children to run in order to be healthier, but even students are taking an interest in their lifelong health.

And between returning runners and runners new to the team and even the sport, Zeiler sees growth in his team in more ways than just numbers.

“We’re getting some people dedicated in cross country,” he said. “The team is starting to progress.”

He also works with runners who want to participate in other sports at the same time, with two runners this year playing soccer.

It takes effort to make it work and for student athletes to meet participation and practice requirements for two sports, but Zeiler said it’s something they have done successfully in the past as well.

As for the runners now on the roster, Zeiler said there is no one he’d single out for expectations.

“I expect a lot of every single runner,” he said.

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