Sylvania students bolt from the starting line at an event in Secor Metropark.
David Briggs won a state title as a cross country runner at Southview High School in 1988 and he hopes to build on that legacy by passing on a love of the sport to Sylvania's youngsters.
Briggs, who is now the boys cross country coach at Northview, has established a series of running events for youths in the city. The races are for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade. Briggs started the event, which consists of three races over three weeks, last year.
"I wanted to turn them on to it at a young age so that it can become a lifelong activity for them," Briggs said. "Sylvania has a strong running tradition going back to my day. And I want to continue that tradition."
There are six races each Wednesday for three consecutive weeks at Secor Metropark. The last race will be Wednesday. Students from all seven elementary schools compete. Youths in kindergarten through grade three run a half mile. The kids in grades four through six run a full mile.
"They compete and use the same scoring as high school cross country," Briggs said. "The top five finishers get points and the lowest point total wins. The winning school at the end of the series gets to take home a trophy."
But Briggs said the competition is really secondary.
"They get done and realize they won and they're excited," Briggs said. "But it's fun just watching kids finish. Even if it's 30th place, they'll put their hands up. More than anything it's for them to come out and have some fun. We want to teach them something about the sport."
Last year about 200 kids participated but now there are more than 300.
"The numbers are increasing," Briggs said. "We can handle more. We're trying to get all of the schools fully on board."
He said the event is modeled after high school meets.
"We try to get all the bells and whistles out," Briggs said. "We have music playing. We pack Secor Park."
Northview girls cross country Jodie Smith also assists. The high school runners also volunteer their time.
"We hope to have a link there," Briggs said. "The high school boys and girls run the show. They are in charge of results and place cards."
Briggs admitted that he hopes the early exposure to the sport will eventually help increase the numbers in the high school program.
The boys team is ranked 12th in the state poll while the girls are 11th.
"We hope this kind of thing helps keep us up there," Briggs said.
Briggs said he started a similar program in the Washington Local School District when he was the cross country coach at Whitmer High School in 2005.
"We did it for three years. We noticed the numbers dropping off [in high school] and we realized a lot of the kids didn't realize cross country was an actual sport," he said.
Briggs, who is a 1989 Southview graduate, won an individual state title in 1988. He also helped the Cougars win a team state title in 1987. Briggs then ran at Indiana University.
"We're just trying to promote cross country through our elementary schools," he said. "One of the great things about our sport is that it's free. All you need is a pair of shoes."
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