In cross country there are always good stories to be told. The very nature of the sport breeds tales of stirring competitions: runner vs. the course, runner vs. the clock, runner vs. runner, runners vs. themselves. When a school has a pair of 7th graders playing key roles on varsity teams, there are definitely stories to be told.
The rookie class does not commonly run on the varsity's top 5, at least not on the boys team and certainly not on large, strong squads unless your name is Shelby Greany. But at small schools, especially ones like Dobbs Ferry that are battling injuries and attrition problems, the opportunities sometimes arise for the small fry to leap out of the pan and blaze bright trails in XC trials-by-fire. Getting the chance to shine early on the big stage is one thing, taking advantage of it is another story.
Grant Sheely first made his presence felt with the Eagles on Labor Day when he got the silver medal in the Dobbs 5K's 14-under age group behind Brendan Wortner, a good omen for sure. On an Eagles team that tends to be relatively quiet, newcomers are usually a bit reserved in the beginning. Grant shows no signs of being anything other than wild and somewhat crazy, whether it's when he's coining names for his favorite parts of the course (Hill of Death, etc.) or helping to stir up fellow newcomer Harry Wagner's Australian bull-pie sessions. Using a running form best described as exuberant and lacking a verteran's caution on the trail, Grant has simply clung on to older runners and gone along for the ride. The trip has taken him to a heap of medals in the Saturday freshman races and a solid spot on the Eagles varsity. Not bad for the team pipper, maybe even fantastic.
Lila Walsh is the last addition to the 2009 Eagles squad, and her development bookended by her initial run at Sleepy Hollow and the League meet there four weeks later has been stunning to watch. Out of necessity the Eagles' girls teams have built a small tradition of 7th graders assuming key spots on the varsity, and Lila has bounded up the ladder with amazing speed. That speed was first viewed by me four years ago when as a Little League umpire coordinator I watched a 3rd-grader easily beat out the throw on a little comebacker to the pitcher only to watch my umpire negate Lila's effort with a horribly blown call. But as her father Jimmy would tell you, the nice thing about cross country is that there is no umpire who can call you out; it's just you against the clock and the hills and fatigue. Lila brings a quite different personality to the team than Grant, but they share not only a ton of medals but also a fast-grown respect from their teammates, who frequently are heard whispering at the end of the race, "Can you believe what that little *%^#@!!! just ran?"
With Lila and Grant, the Eagles have seen their fledglings already leave the nest and start flying with an assurance that bodes very well for many years to come.