Cabin 22. It has been home to the West Springfield Cross Country (XC) team for virtually every year since their former legendary coach Vic Kelbaugh started taking the boys’ team to West Virginia in the late 70s. In the recent past, it has been the Top 12 of each gender who earns the opportunity to spend 3 ½ days in Cabin 22. Some team members who hear of the chance to earn a spot wonder what is the big deal. For anyone who has gone on a team’s XC Camp, the answer is somewhat obvious. For one your are away from home. Two, you realize that this is special. You bond with 12 other runners. It is the essence of being a member of a cross county team. Throw together 4 seniors, 3 juniors, 3 sophomores and 2 freshmen. What other high school sport has this mix of athletes in all years of high school forming a varsity team?
[The following diary of events is similar for each gender group. The only difference with the Boys is that they are on their own to make meals. No Moms come along, as there is no space for them to stay overnight. Groups had formed pre-Cacapon to come up with meal planning, shopping and packaging. One other difference in the Boys’ 3+ days is the final long distance point-to-point run. They start where the girls finish and run a couple extra tenths of a mile. ]
Day 1. 13 Girls arrive and settle in as the two Moms who act as Chefs and chaperones organize the kitchen. The 12 girls claim rooms, beds and floor space. There is a pecking order that determines who gets what. Senior Captains have one room. Other seniors grab a bed to share. Usually, the underclassmen end up on air mattresses in the center open room. Thirty minutes later it’s time for Run #1, Tour of the Park. This run began in the early days and encompasses all areas of Cacapon State Park, roughly a 4+ mile run that has uphill climbs leading back to Cabin 22. Dinner and showers are next. The head coach gathers the girls and lays out the plan for the next morning, the famous Mountain Run. This is the first of 3 key “runs” that make up the 3 plus days at Cacapon.
Day 2. Mountain Run. Just saying those words brings fear to some and respect to others. Why would anyone want to run 4 miles up a mountain? Well, this team finds out every year. It turns out that Coach Kelbaugh had a method to his madness. He figured that testing his runners on a true uphill climb over 4 miles with a 1600 ft. elevation climb would be the toughest run his runners would see all season. Running up the Mountain would give them a sense of calm when it is race day in the season. So this team of girls does a light jog from the Cabin to the starting point on the road that leads to the top of the mountain. The coaches split the runners into groups based on ability, current health, fitness level to-date and past performances. The goal is to have as many runners finish at the top around the same time. The spread for the girls is around 11 minutes from the first group to the last. Coaches head up in cars along with the Moms who hand out water at the 2-mile mark. The weather is good with temps in the mid to upper 50s at 7am. At the top, the two coaches await who will appear first. It turns out that one runner ran better than seeding and was never caught by other runners who started later. Then our #1 or #2 depending day and course finishes and nabs a spot on the All-Time Top 20 list. Once all are finished the girls walk on a cool-down towards the Overlook. With watermelon in hand, the girls walk as big blog down the gravel road. We are pretty happy coaches as all 13 had completed the Mountain Run, something not seen in over 10 years. The rest of the day is rest and some team activities. In mid to late afternoon, the girls go on another 4+-mile run. This time it’s outside the park and is a big square; thus nicknamed the “Box Run”.
Day 3. The morning begins with the 13 girls given a 25 to 30 min run of their own within the confines of the Park. They form 3 groups and head off. The two coaches, Head Coach Chris Pellegrini and myself, start preparing for the “Scavenger Hunt Run”. We aim to get it started at 10:30. We assign the group of 13 into 3 groups. Speed is not the key element of the teams in winning the scavenger hunt. Success is being aware of things seen on the Park “Familiarization Runs”. Each team has the use of their cell phones so using clues online can reveal the correct answer. In many cases, the online searches can lead to possible answers that are nowhere close to the correct location. The starting point for the Scavenger Run is outside Cabin 22. The Finish spot is in the main game room in the Lodge. The teams will pick up a plastic oversized pencil at each Clue location. Inside the pencil is the next location’s clue plus some candy as a reward. All 3 teams order of clue locations has them running in opposite directions to start. This exercise is simply a group event with running thrown in to make it extra challenging. The goal is to have fun and create more bonding among the teammates. It certainly worked on the girls’ team that finished first in just over 31 minutes. The last place team that skipped the final clue was a bit less enthusiastic at the end. Next up: Goal setting, the most important element of the Camp. After a lunch break and nap, we gathered in Cabin 22 and had each girl (boy when they had their goal-setting on the day after their Scavenger Run) write down their personal and team goals along with any general comments. For many of the runners, this is the first time they have written down or thought about personal and team goals. We prod the girls to expand upon a goal or comment. Some girls admit to their own demons when it comes to racing and being fearful at the start of races. The open forum is a big plus for each of the runners. This winds down with the coaches giving them our own reflection. In my case, I thank the girls from 2015 for thinking of me when I could not make it to Cacapon due to complications from side effects for my immunotherapy drug Trial against melanoma. This year, life has changed and I tell the girls that just being here is motivation enough for me.
Day 4: “The Junkyard Dog”. This is the final run of the big 3 running events, the first two being the Mountain run and the Team Relays. This is a point-to-point run on back roads outside the Cacapon State Park. Much like the Mountain Run, we handicap the lineup of our Top 13 and start them off on the 7.3-mile run. The goal is to have the team finish in a tight pack. The gap from first runners off (the expected slower-paced girls) to the final pairing was roughly 10 minutes. The name of the run reflects back about 15-20 years when dogs not on leashes would come out towards the street in full barking mode. In recent years, we have seen more deer darting out across the road then the wild barking dog. The finish line is at the Fish Hatchery near the main road. This location serves as the Start Point for the Boys distance run aptly called the “Fish Hatchery Run”. The boys race 7.4 miles back along similar roads and finish in the Cacapon State Park. On this day, the girls had fairly ideal running conditions. We got them to the start area by 7:15 with a 7:30 start. At the finish, 10 of the 13 broke 60 minutes with our top finisher (Emily) running in the mid 52 minute range to add her name to the Top 20 All-Time list. *It must be noted that our Boys team who is heavy on senior talent raced in an aggressive pack on their long distance run. The result was 4 Boys making our All-Time list and all 4 being in the top 11 of All-Time.
The Camp ends for both genders after the long distance run. The life in Cabin 22 quiets down. The girls turn over a spotless cabin to the Boys and then they clean the cabin to an equally pristine state for the next cabin guests. The coaches leave with great memories and motivation for the upcoming season. Lastly, we all collapse for a long night of sleep.