For the last 22 years, the Jim Thorpe cross country teams disappeared into the woods and were not seen again until the end of their run.
That is about to change this season.
The Olympians' cross country teams have competed on a course that has led them into woods of the Mauch Chunk Lake Park in recent history. They will now be much more visible to the people of the area. Athletic Director Dustin McAndrew and head coach Drew Benyo have finally gotten the approvals and have made the arrangements for a new cross country course in 2011. This year's course will now begin by the high school and progress through the streets of Jim Thorpe before entering the trails of the neighboring woods.
"Cross country hasn't gotten much attention in Jim Thorpe," said Benyo. "Nobody came to Mauch Chunk Lake Park. There was really no place for them to sit and watch the runners, as they were trekking through the woods most of the time. The kids were isolated most of the time and never received much recognition.
"We want our fellow students and parents to be able to see us run, so we decided to make the move. We want to be seen and hopefully this will jump start the awareness of the program."
The idea to change the location of the course was first brought up by Benyo two years ago. He and the kids laid out the course and originally designed it so that the run would start and end on the track. Now that the football stadium is being worked on, they had to slightly alter the starting point and have since moved it to the asphalt by the track. After the 'ball was dropped' over the last two years, McAndrew and Benyo once again brought up the idea to athletic committee. The committee said that if they could get the permission from the owners of the respective land then it would be a go.
The two set out to seek for permission. Carol Witt, a Jim Thorpe local who owns some of the land along East 13th Street that the course is designed on, agreed after Benyo promised her nothing would be harmed and she would be free of all liabilities. They then sought clearance from Pete Bott, the manager of the Mauch Chunk Rod and Gun Club. Bott obliged. Lastly, the two received permission from the borough council and the water company to run on the land around the reservoir. The school board then signed off and everything was set.
"We are very appreciative of everybody," said Benyo. "Mrs. Witt could have hindered the situation if she did not want us to be on her land, but she was open to the idea and went along with it very well. The same can be said of Mr. Bott. He had no problem with us using their land. Everyone was very receptive to the idea and we are very grateful."
The 3.1 mile course will now begin on the asphalt by the football stadium and take off around the high school. From there, the runners will continue onto 10th Street and turn onto Center Street. They will then pass the Rod and Gun Club before heading onto the trails around the Jim Thorpe reservoir. The runners will be visible for all of the running prior to the trails, which should be for about one mile. The trails will make up the remaining two miles. The runners will then come up behind the school and run along the tennis courts before hitting the finish.
Benyo didn't have any excavating teams come to make the trails. He had his own runners clear the path. The Olympians have since used it as a time to bond.
"I split the kids into four groups with rakes," Benyo said. "The junior high runners helped out as well so there was a total of 32 kids or so. They cut down some branches while I spray-painted arrows for the turns. It seems like every time we go out we clear a little more.
"We have used it to build our team chemistry. Everyone has been helping out. They are very excited and enthusiastic to be seen."
The switch from the Mauch Chunk Lake Park to the school will also save Jim Thorpe some money on bus transportation. At this time, anything that makes more economic sense is considered.
Benyo appreciated his time at the Lake Park, but is excited about the program's future and unveiling the new course.
"We loved Mauch Chunk Lake Park because it was a true cross country course," recalled Benyo. "The whole course was through the trails and the woods and the streams.
"Now we have different course where we use some streets and offer a different terrain. After that it is back to true cross country."