Meet Rockford’s youth cross country team: The Wildcats

The Rockford Wildcats is a youth cross country team that formed in 1997. The program is designed to let kids have fun while learning about running. The goal of the Wildcats is to encourage runners of all abilities to meet their personal goals. Team members range in age from 6 to 18.

The Wildcats are affiliated with the Rockford Roadrunners (a Roadrunner Club of America organization), U.S.A. Track & Field, and the Amateur Athletic Union (AA).

The Wildcats combine a low-impact, low-mileage program for newer and younger runners with one designed to meet the needs of more experienced team members. We teach the fundamentals of the sport of running, while emphasizing fun and camaraderie. The program stresses proper training, stretching, conditioning, teamwork and racing.

The team is open to any child interested in running. The only requirements are a desire to run and a pair of running shoes. There is no charge to be a team member. Runners can join the team at any time during the year.

The Wildcats are an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization governed by a board of directors. Parents are encouraged to join the fun by participating in some of the many volunteer needs of the club.

Practices are held at various park locations around the Rockford area. The locations change on a weekly basis.

The has a spring and fall session. The spring session begins in early March and lasts approximately eight weeks. The goal of the spring session is to compete in annual Heritage Run, a two-mile road race in downtown Rockford that also offers a half-mile race for younger runners, and is scheduled for the last Sunday in April.

Fall practice begins in late August. We compete in a series of cross country meets during the fall beginning in early October. The Wildcats host a meet the last weekend in October, which is open to all youth runners. Team members have the opportunity to compete in the state of Illinois youth cross country meet. Qualifiers from the state meet can advance to regional and national Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships in early December.

Practices are held four nights a week and Saturday mornings. They are not mandatory. We encourage runners to attend practice twice a week, and offer multiple sessions to help accommodate busy family schedules.

The team participates in four to six Saturday meets during the fall. Meets have small entry fees and are not mandatory; runners choose their own level of participation. The meets have races for both males and females based on age groups. Age groups and race distances are: Pee-wee (8 and under), 1,500 meters; Bantam (9 and 10), 3,000 meters; Midget (11 and 12), 3,000 meters; Youth (13 and 14), 4,000 meters; Intermediate (15 and 16), 5,000 meters; Young Adult (17 and 18), 5,000 meters.

During the past few years, some of the Wildcats “graduates” have competed on many area highs school teams. This past fall, two competed at the ISHA State Meet, both winning all-state honors.

The Wildcats’ coaching staff includes a head coach and six to eight assisitant coaches. They are all accomplished runners with years of experience in working with and coaching children in a variety of sports. They are dedicated to teaching the sort of running to our youth, who are the future of running.

Head coach Mike Mapes has been active in running for more than 20 years. He has worked with the Wildcats as a volunteer parent and an assistant coach, before becoming head coach in 2001.

If you are interested in more information about the Rockford Wildcats, call 654-3252, or visit

Belvidere also has a youth cross country program run by the Belvidere Park District. Their head coach is Ron Wartgow. Find out more information about the Belvidere program at, or call Wartgow at 544-6853.

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