James Clemens mentors Heritage during ‘Under the Lights with the Jets’

MADISON – Starting a new tradition, the Cross Country Team at James Clemens High School mentored Heritage Elementary School runners for “Under the Lights With the Jets.”

At the event on Nov. 15, Jets runners hosted Heritage and served as pacers for Heritage runners’ first team 5K ‘under the lights’ at nighttime with lights. The Jets helped Heritage stay on course, cheered for them and handed out water and towels at the finish line.

“This closed event was only for the Heritage XC team and their future high school team, James Clemens XC,” Heritage sponsor Heather Kell said. All Heritage runners finished in under 40 minutes. A National Board Certified teacher, Kell teaches fifth-graders at Heritage.

“We wanted to build relationships between the two teams and show our younger runners what it’s like to run a true 5K course as a Jet,” Kell said. After registration for seventh grade, students officially can join James Clemens Cross Country.

“We want to build that team and help create future runners not only for James Clemens but also for a lifetime,” Kell said.

Cross country teams train for long-distance running. Heritage runs one local 5K monthly, like the upcoming Tootsie Roll 5K in Madison.

Coaches Kell and Miranda Biggers hold tryouts when the school year starts. “This year, we had over 100 third- through fifth-graders try out, which is amazing!” Kell said.

For tryouts, students run one mile on Heritage’s track. “We coaches looked at form, pace and time on each student who finished. We do not look at grades. We always look for the same amount of boys as girls and an even number of students across grades,” Kell said.

In the past five years, Heritage Cross Country has grown from about 20 students to 45. At weekly practice, runners stretch, run a warmup mile, assemble for a running chat and complete activities to improve their running. Coaches place runners in six-member pace groups.

The Jets had a profound impact on their younger peers. “We heard things like, ‘You’re almost there,’ ‘You can do it,’ ‘Finish strong,’ and ‘You’ve got this.’ Even our last runner was cheered on by James Clemens runners as they ran alongside her to the finish line,” Kell said.

Biggers and Kell worked with Coach Beth Mattingly at James Clemens to present Under the Lights With the Jets.

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