They say running is an individual sport.
It certainly wasn’t for the Crusaders.
The Father Judge High School cross country team certainly had its share of speedy runners, and individually, they would probably each had successful seasons.
But instead, they worked together and in the process, put together quite the season.
“They made each other better,” said Judge coach Mike Leonard. “They worked so hard, it made it so easy to coach. When they were working out this year, it was special. They were constantly pushing each other. Nobody fell off.
“The workouts were actually crazy. All summer, it was amazing. Times they were down the shore, we log our runs online, they were constantly running. They would text me with questions, tell me how they are feeling. They were locked in to be ready for the season and it showed right from the start.”
The season lasted a long time for six of the runners, who qualified for the state championship race held Saturday in Hershey.
Gavin Kelly finished 140th, Mike Carolan took 142nd, Tim McCloskey finished 188th, Joey Walker came in at 213, Mike McGerry ended up 215th and Brendan Teears was 229th.
It was a great showing for Judge, which came in 22nd as a team at the event. And make no mistake about it, qualifying for this race is a massive accomplishment. That’s why qualifying for states meant so much to all of them.
But it was a little extra special for Kelly, Carolan and McGerry. Those three were the senior captains of the team and they were happy to wear the Judge colors until the final day of the running season. They won’t get much of a break, all three will soon be on the indoor track team, also coached by Leonard, but they agree there was something special about this year’s cross country squad.
“This year will be something I’ll never forget,” said Carolan, who lives in Winchester Park. “We put in the work. I wasn’t positive this summer (that it would be a special season) but when our first race came, I knew we had something special.
“It means so much to run with these guys. They’re not my friends for life, they’re more than friends, they’re brothers. We shared an experience that nobody else understands. And we’ll keep that during track season.”
The cliche iron sharpens iron comes to mind when you think of this team.
When they weren’t competing against Catholic League foes or looking to earn a trip to the state race, they were running hard against each other, be it at practice or when they’d go for runs on their own. But while they were trying to be the best on the team, they also wanted to see their teammates reach new personal records.
This was a team effort since offseason workouts.
“My sophomore year, I quit soccer, and the cross country coach came to me and said you’d be a great cross country runner,” said McGerry, who lives in Torresdale. “As soon as I got here, I loved the atmosphere, the brotherhood. We all push each other to get better. It’s just a good team to be on.”
“It definitely was a team effort the whole season,” said Kelly, who lives in Bustleton. “In grade school, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, I did running just to do a sport. But freshman year, I did cross country and I fell in love with it. I just loved everything about it.”
That season culminated in a trip to Hershey, where the Crusaders not only ran against the best athletes in the state, but took on one of the most difficult courses out there.
“It was the best experience of my life,” said Kelly, who hopes to run in college and is leaning toward majoring in education with hopes of teaching and most likely coaching. “The whole atmosphere there. It meant so much to all of us. It was a super-fun weekend. It’s at Hershey, but we had a good amount of fans there. I really think that shows how good the community is. We had so many people cheering us on. It was a great motivator.”
“It meant the world, we did it in front of fans, family, old teammates, they all came out to cheer us on,” said Carolan, who also wants to run in college and is leaning toward majoring in criminal justice or psychology. “States was a tough course, but I was ready. I felt I ran a good time. It means everything I have been working on, freshman year through summer, was worth it. I was part of a special group that made it. We did it together.”
“Just making it meant a lot because of the program,” said McGerry, who will likely run track in college while majoring in either graphic design or criminal justice. “You’re trying to get your name with the greats who already ran here. Making states was big for all of us.”
The cross country program says goodbye to its three senior stars, but they’ll all stay together for the end of the school year, both on the indoor and outdoor track teams. But when they leave the program, the cupboard is not bare.
Walker, a sophomore, and juniors McCloskey and Teears were all All-Catholic honorees this year and they’ll return next year to lead the Crusaders.
“I’m glad it’s not goodbye, it’s just going from running on grass to running in the circle,” said Leonard, who also coaches the track teams. “We had a really good mix this year, great leaders and young guys who were very good. Our seventh guy, Jacob Gizzi, just missed All-Catholic. We bring back four runners who are hard workers and will lead the team. But we’ll miss our seniors, they were great.”