Three years ago, when telling friends, family, and well-wishers that I would be attending Temple University, I was always asked:
“You gonna run?”
I would just laugh and reply, “No, we don’t even have a program.”
Even though I ran cross country and track throughout high school, I was more concerned with building a foundation for my career than competing in athletics. Journalism was my main focus in picking a college, but the runner in me looked for schools where I could possibly compete. To me, the only disappointing thing about Temple was its lack of a cross country program.
Now, two semesters from graduation, you can imagine how disappointed I was when a note was posted on the athletics Web site: “Temple to Add Men’s and Women’s Cross Country.”
The athletics department announced Aug. 16 that Temple will be running both men’s and women’s teams beginning this fall. This will be the first time Temple has fielded XC teams since 1985. The school removed the program in 1986 to help fund student activities programs such as intramural and club sports.
The main focus of adding a cross county program was to help boost the track team’s performance in distance events, said cross country coach Stephanie Scalessa. Scalessa has spent two years here as the men’s and women’s track and field coach. She said she approached Temple athletics administrators, claiming a cross country team could only help the track team improve.
“There is a whole element of track and field from the 800 meters and up that is really fueled by cross country,” Scalessa said. “In those events, we weren’t having much of a showing. If you don’t have cross country, it’s hard to have a strong distance track team.”
Scalessa will coach both the men’s and women’s cross country teams, along with her track and field duties. While this may seem like a full plate, Scalessa only looks at the dual role as helping both programs strive toward success.
“Being the coach for both is definitely more of a demand, but it is a necessity,” Scalessa said. “I am here one way or another. So we might as well have a cross country [team] so we can start to build a program with a balanced [track and field] team.”
That balance will be hard to find right off the bat. From my high school days, I remember that in order to be successful, a runner needs his or her training grounds to provide a variety of ways to train. Set in North Philadelphia, Temple doesn’t exactly offer the lush, rolling hills or Rocky Mountain peaks that some traditionally strong cross country schools have.
“I was thinking the same thing myself,” said men’s runner Dave A’dderio. “We do a lot of speed workouts on the track. But there are places in the city where you do find some hills.”
Seeing as the only hill I have ever seen in this city is the slight downgrade Broad Street takes to City Hall, I was boggled to hear that there is a runner’s haven located not too far from campus. Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park is the lush, rolling hill that the teams will use for its training purposes.
Apparently, it’s so much of a runner’s haven that the Atlantic Ten Conference has decided to use it for its conference championship.
“It’s definitely going to be exciting to run at home since we don’t really have any meets,” A’dderio said. “But it is still going to be nice to actually have a team.”
“I am very excited about cross country,” said junior sprinter Rachel Johnson, an All-A-10 selection in the 4×800 relay last spring. “With running the 800 in track, the more training I get distance-wise, the better off I will be.”
Development seems to be the key for the Owls cross country team this season.
“We literally just found out about this as school was starting,” Scalessa said. “We are a quarter of the way through the season and we have only had two practices. Our biggest challenge is getting the meets under out belt.”
“I am going to try to better my times from high school,” Johnson said, “and better myself for the upcoming track season.”
On my way to my morning class last week, I noticed a group of runners stretching out on the infield of the track on 15th Street. Knowing they were members of the XC team, I was disappointed. Had I been a year younger, I might be out there with them.
Now that Temple has a program in place, the potential for success is high. I hope that in ten years when I visit the Temple athletics Web site, maybe the headline will read, “Temple XC brings home another A-10 title.”
Maybe then, my current feelings of disappointment will be outweighed by my new feelings of pride.
Greg Otto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.