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CCA cross country celebrates first state championship

Thursday, December 13, 2012

From left, standing, head coach Travis Laird, Wilkes Kirby, Olivia Keiser and coach Angie Laird; sitting, Jack Ladd, Sydney Fincher, Alania Gant, Maddie Brandon, Mallory Edgin, Annsley Johnson and Liz Compere.
Cross country at Christ Classical Academy has come a long way in the school's 17-year history. The program has made huge strides just in the last three years under the direction of head coach and athletic director Travis Laird, who has created a cross country elementary school program not only at CCA but also encouraged other area schools to do the same.

In 2010 Laird surveyed the 20-acre site behind CCA's campus and began the work of getting the grounds ready for cross country. There was mowing to be done, holes to be filled and bridges to be built. Along with countless volunteers, Laird mowed the area and leveled the ground to make it safe for kids to run. The local Boy Scout troop built two bridges to cross over the small creek that runs through the site.

In the fall of that year, Laird announced that he would begin a cross country program for his middle school students to participate in and compete against other area schools. However, he was surprised when the program drew an interest from his younger students as well.

Coach Travis Laird has been CCA's athletic director for three years. He created the cross country program for grades 3-5 back in 2010 after an overwhelming response from students who just wanted to run and get active.
"As a physical education teacher, I knew we could not pass up an opportunity to provide an after-school fitness program for these students," said Laird.

Laird saw an opportunity to get kids moving at an early age. He decided to create a program with the intention of teaching kids in the lower grades the basics of fitness, hydration, nutrition and running. Amazingly the kids not only enjoyed the running and physical activity but also began to encourage their fellow students to do the same.

Laird and his wife Angie, who helps coach the cross country teams, began to search for ways to allow the kids to compete, but it proved difficult at first as area schools did not have an elementary cross country program. Laird encouraged Dyersburg Intermediate School, St. Mary's Catholic School and Augustine Christian School to put together a program. They did, and together with CCA, they created their own division for Northwest Tennessee and held three meets in 2012.

The results were impressive.

Sydney Fincher hits her stride in practice. The CCA students practice on a one-mile course that took head coach Travis Laird and many volunteers three years to get to the condition it is in today. The course had to be cleared and leveled and a local Boy Scout troop built a bridge to allow runners to cross.
After starting with 25 kids three years ago, CCA hosted the first of three elementary cross country meets in September of this year with more than 300 kids participating. Laird says that the kids participating are a great example for their peers and he has kids that constantly tell him they cannot wait to be in the third grade so they can be part of the program as well.

"Our children feel better and perform better academically when they are physically fit and healthy," said Laird.

The story does not end there for Laird and his team as they attended the regional tournament and eventually the state tournament in October. The CCA Eagles represented the school well at both tournaments and the elementary girls team brought home the state championship in cross country. It was the first championship of any kind for the school.

The girls team made up of Maddie Brandon, Liz Compere, Annsley Johnson, Olivia Keiser, Alania Gant, Mallory Edgin and Sydney Fincher averaged just under seven minutes at the state tournament held at Victor Ash Park in Knoxville on Oct. 13. The Lady Eagles were led by Edgin who placed sixth overall at the tournament, Compere who placed 10th overall and Brandon who placed 15th overall to secure the championship.

Wilkes Kirby and Mallory Edgin train for the national championships in early November.
"We have just been so blessed this season and it has been so much fun," said Laird.

After their appearance at the state tournament, CCA had an opportunity to run at the AAU National Cross Country Championship held in Rick Hill, S.C. on Dec. 1. After discussing the idea with school leadership, including Principal Janice Young, and parents, the team pressed forward for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Maddie Brandon poses after an event at Dyersburg Intermediate School where she ran the fastest mile for all girls.
"I just really felt that God was not done blessing our season," said Laird.

The team held fundraisers to make the trip, which included an overnight stay in South Carolina. The event was a great experience for the young runners and helped grow the team bond even more. The kids now look forward to next season hoping to build on the wonderful experiences they had this year. In addition, the team is a great example of the benefit of staying fit and being active.

"As parents, educators and community leaders we need to provide more physical activity programs in our schools across Tennessee," said Laird. "Running is the cheapest way I know to get our children moving. All it takes is a pair of running shoes."

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