The passion, the discipline, and the love for the sport bonds these athletes for life. Whether the athlete ran his or her first race more than 50 years ago or ran his or her first race a few months ago, at Austin High School, the cross-country team is a family.
“I tell my runners, ‘This is your family,’” said Chris Fugate, AHS boys cross-country head coach for the last two years and member of the 1985 AHS cross-country team, which was the first AHS team to qualify for the regional competition. “You will always be part of a family here.”
The parents and coaching staff worked together to bring everyone together to honor members of the cross-country family. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the 1992 AHS cross-country team who qualified for the state competition. It also marks the 40th anniversary of the first AHS cross-country team to win the Mid-Southern Conference.
“I just wanted to remember these guys. I had some really great kids,” said Andy Watts, AHS cross-country head coach from 1971 to 2006. Watts is out of retirement helping AHS’ current cross-country team as the assistant coach. “It was just good to see the smiles on these guys’ faces.”
For the first time, the members of the 1977 team, the first team to win the Mid-Southern Conference; the members of the 1985 team, the first team to qualify for regional competition; the members of the 1992 team, the first team to qualify for state competition; and the top 25 runners with fastest school records in the 5,000 meters met together as a family.
“It was a complete rush,” said Jonathan White, who was the 1993 Indiana Boys Cross-Country State Champion and a member of the 1992 AHS cross-country team. White coached the AHS cross-country team in the mid-2000s. Today, his son is on the team.
“It was always good to see the guys you haven’t seen in awhile,” White said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
White’s wife, Hope, helped organize the event after listening to the current cross-country team asking to meet the top 25 runners, whose names appear on a record board at the high school. Two of the current team members were able to put their names on the board this year after making the AHS cross-country team made it to semi-state.
“The kids were saying, ‘We want to meet some of these legends,’” Hope White said. “They wanted to put faces to their names.”
Hope White also wanted to honor Watts, who coached the AHS cross-country team in each of the last five decades. Watts’ coaching style and compassion continue to impact past and present athletes in the program.
“The man is completely inspiration,” Hope White said of Andy Watts. “He sees the potential in people. We wanted to honor Mr. Watts.”
On a Wednesday evening before the current team’s season was finished for the year, the family of runners from years before and currently met together to share stories, encouragement, and memories.
“It was a wonderful evening,” Watts said. “These young kids seem to idolize these guys. It was just indescribable the time we had.”
One of those legends in the crowd was Lynn Surber, who placed 20th at the state cross-country competition in 1960. He ran the race barefooted.
Surber was also the first person in Austin High School’s history to qualify for the event.
“He was overwhelmed with how people were taken to him,” Watts said about Surber.
Not only did it mean a lot to the past members, it meant a lot to the current members and high school students.
“They wanted to honor the guys before them,” Fugate said. “It was an amazing experience to see all these guys and take it all in. It was good for them to hear, ‘We’ve been there. It will pay off.’ It was something special.”
“It’s something they are going to look back with pride,” Hope White said. “It’s something they all share together.”