Macon-Bibb County high school students performed well once again at Cross Country Regionals. Many student athletes competed for their schools cross country teams. Central High School’s cross country team really shined.

Central High School Cross Country Team
Central High School Cross Country Team. Photo by Pamela Boylan Hill.

Regionals championship races for Region 4 AAA schools were at Dauset Trails in Butts County, Georgia, this year. Several teams from Macon-Bibb County made quite an appearance. The Central High School Chargers, the Westside High School Seminoles, and the Rutland High School Hurricanes were represented in the meet, which was held on October 25, 2017.

The regional cross county course qualifies runners to compete at the state level competition, which will be held in Carrolton, Georgia. The top seven individual finalists in both the boy’s and girl’s running divisions can run at state competition as individuals, while only the top four teams from each region can continue to compete as a team past the regional competition. The schools represented in this region spread from Columbus to Macon and includes seven different high schools.

Jonathan Hunter from Central High School came in first place, and he is the Region 4 Boys’ Cross Country Champion again, repeating his success from previous school years. Based on overall team performance, Central High School came in third place, and Westside came in fourth place for the boys’ teams.

Jonathan is the boy’s captain for the cross country team, as well as a senior at Central High School. His hard work throughout the season paid off as he finished in 1st place again, making Jonathan the reigning region champion.

While Jonathan has been running since he was 5 years old, he did not start running long distance until a few years ago. He has been so successful at cross country running that he now plans to run for a college team.

“The best thing about cross country season is meeting new people and [getting to] help build the team,” says Jonathan.

He also said that his favorite part of this particular season so far was “seeing both the girls and boys teams make it to state another year in row.”

As Jonathan prepares for the next chapter in his life, he has words of advice for the next captain of the Central High School cross country team: “Get to know your team, and pay attention to their weaknesses, be a great motivator and lead the team in the sport, class, and everywhere.”

Cross country is just as much a mental sport as a physical sport. Sometimes, mentally pushing yourself to keep going is what gets you through the finish. Finding motivation can be difficult, and Jonathan says “It’s important to never give up, and to find your drive–you know what you are doing this for.”

Central High School Cross Country Team Boys Captain Jonathan Hunter
Central High School Cross Country Team Boys Captain Jonathan Hunter. Photo by Pamela Boylan Hill.

“Cross country gave me better leadership skills from being the captain,” Jonathan continues, “and endurance, but mainly it gave me a bond that I will miss after this year.”

Zaren Harris, from Central High School, came in third place for the girls’ meet. Jessica Willing, from Rutland High School, came in fifth place. Ravyn Cystrunk, from Central High School, finished in seventh place. Based on overall team performance, Central High School took first place as a team the second year in a row.

Zaren is a senior at Central High School. Thanks to her third place win in the girl’s race at region, she is qualified to run at state competition as an individual. She has been running cross country for six years in addition to her seven years of track. She also plans to continue running in college.

As a close-knit group, the team all share a bond almost like a family. Like any family, the team members like to make jokes at others’ expense. Times like that made up Zaren’s favorite memories. “Some of the most memorable moments are when the team all laughs together and makes sarcastic remarks towards each other during warmups,” she says.

Her advice to next year’s captain is straightforward: “Have fun and interact with your teammates and get to know them. Be their motivator and help them with running strategies in any way you can.”

To find motivation, Zaren advises her teammates to focus on what’s ahead of them. “No matter what, keep moving, and strive for the person in front of you. Make your competitor uncomfortable.”

As a track runner, Zaren says that cross country has been beneficial for track. “The endurance can go a long way for that last 50 meters of a race.”

Many of the lessons that Jonathan and Zaren learned while running cross country have helped them beyond just track and field. The dedication and determination to keep moving when everything in their body wants to stop has given them a mental toughness and an ability to persevere.

Central Chargers cross country coaches, Star Alston and Shelia Toombs, really work to support their team. They try to set them up for a successful life, not just a successful season. The coaches encourage their teams to work hard in school, their sport, and all other aspects of their lives.

As one cross country parent stated, “Participating in cross country teaches the kids to work hard and not give up. It brings a strength of spirit that will serve them in the future. This is one lesson that is tough to teach in the classroom, but is learned and understood in the sport of Cross Country. They are arguably the hardest working, but seem to get the least recognition for their efforts. They receive something even better though: the knowledge that they have inner strength and are able to succeed.”