Photo credit: Christian Brothers Academy
“Gentlemen, let’s go.”
This was a daily statement from head coach Sean McCafferty. Sometimes it had to be said in a raised voice in order to travel the eighty meters or so to the front door of the track house. There were, and always have been, a few stragglers.
More often than not I was one of them.
Always in need of a last minute bathroom pit stop, stretch, or the frequent search for some sort of caffeine behind my couch in the house. The older group typically knew what was in front of them. There were only a limited set of options if you were walking down to “the stick” to start the day’s run.
The experienced had learned to find comfort in the dread of whatever mind numbingly boring run they were about to be ordered to do, and to be honest, who knew what the young ones thought in those moments. The truth is it never mattered what anyone thought then, because 30-or-so young men and boys were about to begin the day’s aerobic activity, for no reasons of their own but for the motivations of the group.
Over the last fifteen years, northeast high school boys cross country teams have come and gone, each having glory and dreams come true until the team’s stars graduated. Then the process begins again. Maybe a talented young runner will come in and define the team, or a runner begins to understand the limitless potential he may hold, and he will work towards personal success.
A coach will help shape a team around that young man, and they will have relative success, maybe even a state title or two. This is how the good teams come about in high school cross country. Though, through the ebbs and flows of the good and bad, there is one constant.
That is, of course, the presence of the Christian Brothers Academy cross country team. The team that never goes away.
And why is this the case, you may wonder?
Well, from my experience, the answer is quite simple: Winning is everything.
High school sports have always been about winning, but there is the connotation that it is more about having fun and making memories that will always be prevalent. I don’t find that to be entirely untrue, but CBA is like no other. To say that “winning is everything,” you may think is toxic or in poor taste, but I’d beg to differ.
I was there for four years. I saw the ins and outs, and I was one of the hundreds of young men who dedicated their time towards something special within the four walls of that track house. Until this very sentence, I’m sure you believe that by winning, my vain personality is referring to winning races and meets, and the glory that comes with the two.
Those are everything to many, but as I have said, CBA is like no other.
I have stormed down the back stretch of an important race many times over. I have felt the pure exhaustion that comes with leaving all you have out there. I can definitively say that winning for personal glory is not a strong enough fuel to push the human body much further.
It is enough to make the good teams good and good runners progress, but that is nothing compared to the incendiary motivation that wearing the CBA uniform helps one possess.
It is the kind of the motivation that more often than not turns a below average freshman into a crucial role player on a nationally contending team. Winning races does not do this for a team or individual, winning the beliefs of generations of young men does.
Hundreds of runners have come and gone, and the responsibility of the dynasty that is the CBA cross country program may often seem to fall upon their shoulders, but I would like to argue that we have had nothing to do with the success. Rather, the most valuable part of this program had never been the few that are able to make winning an expectation, or the many that are so very crucial to helping the team better itself. It is one working body that requires the effort of each moving piece.
This type of fluidity is impossible on its own. The winning that I have described is the responsibility of a few men.
That is, of course, the coaching staff.
Now, the “win at all costs” mentality that exists within this program is not toxic, nor unhealthy, rather it is the healthiest form of motivation that exists. This is because there are leaders such as McCafferty, Tom Heath, Karl Torchia, Mike Mazzaccaro, Andrew Cusick, and Jerett Sanderson.
These are men who can look a young man in the eye, and see through any facade that is in front of them.
They can take a young man with a lack of confidence, and make him feel like the most important piece in such a valuable quest.
There is a reason that CBA track and field is able to walk into an indoor track meet, and deep down every teammate knows that they are about to do something very few people will ever understand: become winners.
As I have said, winning in this context has nothing whatsoever to do with sport, but rather to do with the making of young men who want something more out of themselves. This exists because of the men who are able to pride themselves on being the leaders of such a dominant force in the sport.
I watched carefully for four years, and never once did I see a coach ever care about something other than making their athletes better men. In reality, I believe that running, jumping, and throwing is secondary within those four walls, falling just behind the wish to create better men.
No runner is ever treated the exact same, because each of those coaches are able to understand what an individual needs to be successful. Some need positivity at all times, others motivational speeches, and as for myself, well I just needed to be reined in.
I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when they were hard on me, but that is because that we always knew that I could give more.
I would also be lying if I said there were not times where I pushed back against them, but that was because it took me time to understand and to learn.
And for that, I am ever grateful to the coaches for pushing me, because through every up and down, those men saw me for what I really was. This being someone of substance, who needed to be shaped and molded in the right ways to be successful.
Without men like McCafferty and Torchia, I would never have even begun to believe in the type of unity that they have brought into the CBA program.
I wish every high school athlete could experience something that special, and the type of success that comes as a result of that kind of incredible culture. They say you never know what you have had until it’s gone, but I disagree. Everyone in that track house knows how special it is to be there, and that is because of the men that have given their lives towards making others believe.
And for that, to them I say thank you.
TIM MCINERNEY — GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY // CHRISTIAN BROTHERS ACADEMY
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