Wildcats teach youth cross country prowl

Wildcats teach youth cross country prowl

By Brian Leaf

By Brian Leaf

Freelance writer

Exercise for the Gameboy generation is supposed to build strong thumbs. But five years after the Rockford Wildcats started offering kids a chance to run, there are several hundred sets of strong young legs around town, too.

The Wildcats is a youth cross country team, founded in 1997 to let kids have fun while learning how to run. By last year, it has grown to be Illinois’ largest youth running club, with more than 125 members. The club sent 44 runners to the national AAU Cross Country Championships last December in Joplin, Mo., producing five top 50 finishers. I don’t think anyone really understood that there would be that much interest,” said head coach Mike Mapes. “Everyone thought it would be a smaller group, 40-50 kids tops.”

For years, the Rockford Road Runners adult running club talked about building a youth running arm, but nobody did anything about it until Marty Contreras put together a small group of kids who could run together. Numbers quickly swelled.

Jessica (Langford) Sweeney, a former Winnebago High School at University of Minnesota star, implemented a low-mileage, low-impact training program during her tenure as head coach, a strategy that Mapes plans to continue at this fall’s practices, which have started.

Fall practices are at 5:30 p.m. on Rockford area streets. Membership is free to all youths from 4 to 18 years old. The Wildcats run five meets against other runners in October, as well as AAU qualifying and national meets.

Runners pay for their entry fees, typically $6, and must find their own

travel to meets.

Coaches are volunteers. Parents are expected to help with practices and the Wildcats’ home meet on Oct. 27. They’re also encouraged to run. Mapes said he’s also recruiting adult runners interested in coaching youth cross country. You need not be fast. For more information, call Mapes at 654-3252 or visit the club’s Web site at http://www.wildcats.rockriver.net.

Brian Leaf is a Rockford-based freelance writer and treasurer of the Wildcats. Write him at brian.leaf@home.com

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!