Casey has 24 on first cross country team

September 17, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

LIBERTY - It all started because one girl wanted to run.

A little over a year ago, Rita Dixon decided to take up cross country in hopes that it would help her in track.

Now she is joined by nearly two dozen others carrying the banner of a Casey County team that is off and running in its first season.

Casey's fledgling cross country program is making the rounds of area meets and invitationals for the first time this season, and it could have a promising future thanks to a roster stockpiled with athletes of all ages.


"We couldn't get a team going if there wasn't interest shown in it," Dixon said.

Dixon and Casey coach Barry Lee, who also coaches the track team, started talking the team up last spring during track season.

"We kind of knew we could possibly have a team," Lee said.

Now there are 24 runners in the program, of whom 11 are in high school and the youngest is in the first grade.

Many of the older runners also run distance events for the Casey track team.

"I know this will help build our distance running up," Lee said.

That's what prompted Dixon to take up the sport last year.

"I had a really bad sophomore (track) season, and I was really disappointed in it," she said. "If I wanted to take strides the next year, I knew I had to do something. That's why I quit playing basketball. I knew all my competition ran cross country."

Dixon started practicing on a regular basis with the Boyle County team, and soon she was running in many of the same meets they ran, competing in her Casey track uniform.

Dixon qualified for the state meet after finishing 18th in her Class AA regional, and she finished a respectable 103rd at the state meet.

Seven months later, she earned three Class AA medals at the state track meet to help the Casey girls to a best-ever third-place finish, placing fourth in the 400-meter run and helping relay teams finish sixth in both the 800 and 1,600 relays.

Dixon's success helped get program going

Lee said Dixon's success had a great deal to do with getting the program off the ground.

"Rita started running last year, and that sparked the interest," the coach said.

Of course, Dixon doesn't think so.

"I know that there had been talk of a team, and (former track) coach (Randy) Salyers had tried in the past to get a team going," Dixon said.

Fellow senior Matt Cheeseman said there's no denying Dixon's influence.

"She made me," Cheeseman said with a smile when asked why he joined the team. "I saw how much better she was (in track last year) than her sophomore year, and I wanted that for my senior year."

Dixon said Lee deserves some credit as well, particularly after the Casey track team's success in his first year with that team.

"He made track season enjoyable enough for them to want to keep running for him, even if it is three miles," Dixon said.

Cheeseman said he tolerates the tougher practices, but he said he's enjoying the meets.

"The practices are harder, but I didn't think actually running at meets is harder than track meets," he said.

This isn't the first time Casey has tried to start a cross country team, but this is the first time the level of interest has gone beyond former coach Salyers and a handful of others.

"There was no interest, and now that it's there we can see we can be successful," Lee said.

Success won't be measured in championships, at least not right away. Casey's boys finished last among the 12 schools fielding teams at last week's Boyle County Invitational, and only two girls ran in their varsity race.

Dixon was seventh among 72 girls at the Boyle meet, while the top Casey boy, freshman Chris Wilkinson, was 52nd out of 126.

But the middle school boys race might have better reflected the program's potential. Sixth-grader Nolan Weddle won that race and Casey finished sixth among 11 teams.

This year's seniors said they're looking forward to seeing what the team can do in years to come.

"I already told the kids I'm going to come back and give coach Lee a couple of college workouts for them to do," Dixon said.

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