First Baptist Academy harriers are not only breaking cross country records, they are also making school history with last week’s first-ever cross country meet being hosted on FBA grounds.
“Monday, Sept. 12 was an important day for FBA, it was mainly a junior high meet, and another school with some high school runners,” said Bob Hull, head cross country coach.
This is Hull’s third year coaching at FBA. He leads the way for the two teams: junior high made up of fifth-through eighth-graders, and the high school team for the older freshman through senior level runners.
“In my first year here, the junior high girls and boys teams placed. The girls placed fifth out of 36 teams in Southern Illinois Junior High School Athletic Association (SIJHSAA) tourney,” Hull said.
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Last year, Hull said they were 10 out of 42 teams.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve had eight All-State kids on the junior high side,” Hull said.
Hull reflected on a student, Becca Starrett, who is a sophomore now at Missouri Baptist University, who surpassed expectations, as a 2011 IHSA 1A state qualifier and is still running at the top of her game.
“She was our (FBA’s) first athlete to ever go to the conference, and she was the first to ever be awarded a running scholarship to attend MBU,” Hull said.
Still competing, Starett was announced American Midwest Conference Freshman Runner of the Year in 2015.
“Her record is impressive, just last week she was named the AMC Runner of the Week, and that’s drawn from a pool of freshman through senior runners,” Hull said.
In her senior year, Starett won the indoor two-mile race for the State Track and Field meet, Hull said.
“It was really cool, especially being able to see her flourish with her running after she moved on from FBA,” Hull said.
FBA is a small private school with a student population of less than 500. Twenty-one students are cross country runners, including both junior high and high school-aged kids.
“It’s a small school and a small team but I think it shows just how our kids are able to get that individual one-on-one time with the coach(es) and that builds their confidence and skill,” Hull said.
Within the last year and a half, seven SIJHSAA All-State honors — five cross country All-State athletes and two distance runners — were All-State at 1600 meters on the track, according to Hull.
“Running scholarships provide an avenue for kids to go to college and have it paid for,” Hull said. “So it’s fun to see these kids grow in their skill and endurance and then get their college paid for through their hard work.”
FBA has a IHSA 1A team, and O’Fallon Township High School is a IHSA 3A school.
At last week’s FBA meet, 59 junior high and 11 high school students raced. Maryville Christian School and Trinity Lutheran were the other two teams.
“It was really a triangular meet for us, and Maryville had four high school age kids, so we didn’t want to leave them out, so they came to race too,” Hull said.
Down the road, Hull said with FBA’s fifth fastest freshman in the two-miler at IHSA 1A last year, Will Brant, he hopes to make it to state again.
The SIJHSAA state meet is coming up on Oct. 15.
“I think we could finish as high as fifth or sixth, and have three or four that are capable of being All-State runners because there’s no doubt we have All-State material this year, but it depends on what happens from now to then,” Hull said.
In 2014, FBA Eagles were fifth and three girls ranked top 12 out of 200, and were the only team at state to do that then, Hull said.
“We just had our season opener high school meet in New Athens on Aug. 22, and our top boy placed sixth out of 200-plus runners, and set a new school record with a time of 17:39. Our top girl placed 33rd out of 100-plus runners too. Both earned medals, but all of our kids ran great,” Hull said.
The junior high boys and girls kicked off the season on Aug. 20 at the Edwardsville Lincoln/Liberty home meet at Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville.
“Approximately 150 runners took on the heat, humidity, hills and tall grass and our top five runners made 3, 8, 13, with two others in the top 30, and again, all of our kids ran great,” Hull said.