Update: on Nov. 6, the Girls Cross Country team became back-to-back State Champions, as they clinched the title for the second year in a row.
Athletic participation is integral to the St. George's experience. Through the numerous team and individual sports offered by the school, St. George’s seeks to build character, instill team values and advocate a life-long commitment to positive physical and emotional habits. Winning on the field, track or court is an added bonus.
This life-long commitment is evident in long-distance runner Allison Newman – the reigning TSSAA Division II-A individual state champion.
After she crossed the 5K finish line in just 18 minutes and 52 seconds, she watched her teammate, Lauren Rutlin, cross just 10 seconds behind her, coming in second. Overall, five St. George’s runners crossed the finish line in the top 20, pushing the team to the top spot on the podium.
“As we watched each other cross the finish line, we were shocked,” Newman recalled. “We all thought, did that just happen?”
While their performance was impressive, Newman explained winning was never the team’s main goal. Even as recent state champions, the desire to win is still not a mentality with which they approach each season. Instead, the team members see the season as an opportunity to train and excel together.
The St. George’s girls cross country team is closer than most. Whether or not they’re training, they enjoy creating memories and small traditions that Newman says are “just theirs.” Outside the sport, the girls are close too – sometimes having Zoom calls just to do their homework together or have dinner.
“It’s so great having a group of people that value one another and push each other to be better,” Newman said. “Not many people have that.”
Though her senior season marks the end of her time as a Gryphon, Newman’s running career will continue, as she recently committed to run cross country at the University of Missouri. While COVID-19 hindered the recruiting process for many athletes, Allison was still able to find a home for the next four years and will sign with Mizzou Nov. 11.
When asked what led her to pursue competitive running, the answer was simple. She grew up around the sport. St. George’s cross country coach, Mark Newman, is her dad.
As the high school boys and girls cross country coach for over 10 years, Mark Newman says he’d love to see the girls atop the podium again this year, but only if they can healthily and safely do so.
While running is an outdoor, limited-contact sport, COVID-19 has still brought challenges to cross country teams. Important meets were cancelled and many runners were unable to participate in available races due to illness or exposure. However, all St. George’s team members have been practicing the appropriate safety measures such as social distancing, contact tracing and even opting for online instruction out of precaution for upcoming meets.
In his coaching approach, Mark Newman says he takes cues from St. George’s administration.
“Something that St. George’s does really well is focus on developing relationships with students. Coaches and teachers are sensitive to how the students are feeling both physically and mentally.”
He coaches similarly, with a holistic approach, holding his runners to high standards that go beyond just having the top time, and teaches them instead to recognize the successes of runners who exhibit commitment and dedication to the sport and those who follow the rules. He also believes the investment in the students he coaches, including his own daughter, has been his biggest takeaway as a coach.
“I get to watch these kids blossom into leaders and role models for their teammates – they go on to college with so much confidence and the ability to make great decisions,” he said. “It’s fun watching them grow.”
The above photos were from the 2019 Cross Country season, pre-COVID-19.