The Running Giraffes
By Michael Miller, Associate Director of Communications & Admissions
Late last spring, a few Atrium School families serendipitously approached Linda Echt, Atrium's Head of School, with an idea - could Atrium have a cross country team? When parents first brought the idea to Linda, they learned that this was already part of the plan to expand Atrium's middle school athletic program. Atrium's own middle school teacher Bob Dowling, an avid runner who regularly competes in races, was the coach everyone had in mind. Though Bob had never coached a formal team before, given his running background, he was up for the challenge. And thus Atrium's cross country team was born.
Linda and Bob met throughout the summer to discuss necessary steps in order to create a cross country team, including looking at budgetary needs and determining how the team would operate. Together they decided the team would be open to all students in Grades 6 - 8. The primary goals of Atrium's cross country team were to create a fun, team-oriented experience built around learning how to run, to build endurance, and ultimately train for an end-of-season cross country meet.
Initial estimates for participation were around 5 students, which proved quite low as 17 male and female students eagerly joined, many of whom had never run before. Pleased by the turnout and eager to understand student motivations, Bob had each student discuss his or her individual goals and motivations for joining, and found an incredible variety of reasons. Some joined simply to be healthy and active, others wanted to be part of a team and many wanted to increase speed or build endurance for other sports.
Once the team members were set, a team name was needed. After some discussion, the students chose to call themselves The Giraffes. A key factor in the decision, besides the fact that giraffes are amazing animals, was that giraffes have the endurance to be able to run for a few miles at speeds up to 35mph, and endurance is a key attribute needed for cross country runners. Once the name was official, blue colored running jerseys were designed by some of the students and the Atrium Giraffes cross country team was up and running!
With the team set and a name chosen, it was time to for Bob to create the running program. Using a 10 week program created by the LA84 Foundation, whose mission is to introduce running for fun, fitness and competition, Bob created the base for the fall cross country season training. Initially the students would run short distances of 40 - 50 yards and engage in activity-based running, with the goal being to keep moving. Over time, the runners would build endurance and increase to distances of 1 - 3 miles.
For the inaugural fall season, Bob held practices twice a week after school. Once each week, the team ran at nearby Fillipello Park. For the second session, Bob had the team take advantage of the beautiful surrounding Watertown area in order to keep runs fun and interesting.
The season began in September and concluded on November 7th for the 7th Annual Massachusetts Middle School Cross Country meet. This meet, 1.86 miles in length, is open to all public and private school middle schoolers. So with 2,500 other middle schoolers the Atrium Giraffes competed in their first meet and concluded Atrium's very first cross country season ever.
The success of this season has led to a spring season that will focus on track and short distance running.