Friday, April 4, 2008
Cross-country ski team celebrates banner season
The Concord-Carlisle High School Cross Country Ski Team had a banner season. The snow flew early and by December 3, the team was off their rollerblades and onto the real stuff. For most of the season they trained and had their meets at Great Brook Farm State Park.
The 23-member team, a quarter of them freshmen girls, mastered their techniques and went on to win first place for both the girls and boys teams in the Dual County League (DCL). CCHS has won the DCL for the past ten years under Coach Dusty Johnstone, who retires this year.
At the state level, CCHS also did well, coming in third place behind two western Massachusetts powerhouse teams. Co-captains Luke Siebert of Concord and Jimmy Burnham of Carlisle, both seniors, finished eight and ninth respectively in the state race. On the girls team, junior Julie Paino of Concord came in third in the state, junior Blair Robinson of Carlisle came in eighth, captain Sophia Meyerson, a junior, of Concord came in 12th, and freshman Juliet Dalton of Carlisle came in 17th.
The skiers agree that it’s not winning that makes this team great. Robinson said, “Being on the team, you really feel a sense of community.” The team is coed across four grades; they all practice together and form friendships across the four grades. Freshman Adeline Bakewell pointed out that all the freshmen girls were new to the sport and by the end of the season, “it was such a tight team!”
Honors for this strong team came from the Boston Globe, which named Paino and Robinson All-Scholastics Athletes and Johnstone Coach of the Year.
Johnstone is a model coach
All team members credited their coach for building such a strong team. Robinson said, “He doesn’t put pressure on you. He wants to make sure the athletes enjoy themselves while they improve their skills.” Jimmy Burnham said, “It’s hard to put your finger on why Dusty gets us to do so well. I can’t imagine a better coach than him. He’s really good at working one-on-one and figuring out what each person needs.” His brother, freshman Chris Burnham said, “Dusty brings a lot of fun into the training,” and Paino noted, “Dusty’s goal is to get kids out there and have them develop a love of the sport.” Freshman Tim Lamere from Carlisle said, “He coaches not only to have a good team but so people will love skiing and continue to ski the rest of their lives.”
Training on snow
When Johnstone started coaching at CCHS in 1997, the team had only six or eight boys and three girls. Since he needed five scorers for the races, he had to recruit two girls from the alpine ski team.
In the early days, Johnstone had to convince the athletic director that the team should practice at a cross-country ski center rather than at the high school fields. He asked, “Do you let the swimmers go to a pool?” Since then, the team has been bused to Great Brook, the Weston Ski Track or a local golf course for training.
The team learns the techniques on rollerblades and rollerskis before snow falls. “For so many years, there was no snow until race week,” Johnstone recalled. “The team has a huge advantage if they have been practicing on rollerblades for a month.” He concedes that getting started can be costly. Rollerskis run about $300, and a new set of skate skis, poles and boots are over $400. Sometimes kids borrow equipment, but clothing can be another wallet-emptying expense.
Another great training source has been the CCHS cross-country teams that compete in the fall. Tom Hart, the girls cross-country coach, is a strong advocate for the cross-country ski team. Many girls join his team in the fall so they can get in shape for the ski team, while some join the ski team to stay in shape after running all fall. Hart considers it a “win-win” situation.
The team has lost a few athletes to the indoor track teams, which were added two years ago during the winter season. “This has been a significant challenge,” Johnstone acknowledges. He does not advocate students running for three consecutive seasons: “It’s not necessarily the best for the heart and mind. Cross-country skiing outdoors is a wonderful change of venue and environment.” It works the whole body, not just the legs, and it doesn’t pound the knees like running, he adds.
This year, of the 23 team members, four boys and five girls are from Carlisle. Among the top performers are Blair Robinson, who won four out of five DCL races, and the Burnham brothers. Jimmy Burnham has been in the top four in every DCL race and Chris finished third for the team in every DCL race. Johnstone said of Chris, “This is outstanding for a freshman!” He singled out two other freshmen for their improvement over the season. Of 103 girls, Dalton moved from 19th in her first race to seventh in her last race and finished 17th in the state competition. Lamere moved from 28th in his first race to eighth in his last race.
The future without Johnstone
Although the entire team deeply regrets that their coach is stepping down, the skiers are looking forward to next year. The top girls are returning, and the team has a lot of momentum. “But,” said Johnstone, “the kids deserve a coach with younger legs.” He hopes to cheer them on next winter. Meanwhile, the search is on for a new coach. ∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito