While the city of Harlem is restoring the Columbia Theatre, Harlem High School math teacher and assistant baseball coach Russ Winter is getting a program back up to speed.
The Harlem cross country team has been dormant the past three or four years, but that will end Aug. 16 when the Bulldogs take part in Greenbrier’s season-opening meet at Wildwood Park.
While working with the girls basketball team last year, one of the parents suggested bringing the program back and Winter thought that was a great idea.
“I’ll say it was the end of basketball season,” said Winter. “Wade Cotton, his daughter plays on the team and they run a lot of cross country, so he was like, ‘You know, I wish somebody would get it started,’ and I said you know I’d like to do that. I kind of took the initiative and said I’d jump on it.”
Lack of participation had ended the program.
“When Grovetown opened, most of the athletes running cross country left,” said Harlem athletic director and track coach Adam Fulford. “It dwindled and we didn’t have anybody come out. We couldn’t afford the program because there was nobody doing it. Russ is going to do a great job, he’s a great guy.”
Winter had 25 students show interest before the end of the 2014 school year, making it a go. He also has some high-profile members of the former Harlem cross country community showing interest as well.
“It was 20 years ago but he’s got a three-time region champ and state competitor in his corner,” said 1993 Harlem graduate Bubba Blanton. “I’m very glad to be part of rebuilding the old program.”
Winter said Blanton has been invaluable in getting the course – two-loops around the high school – back in shape.
“He’s been out here putting in a lot of leg work,” said Winter, who has been working on cleaning up the course for the past two weeks. ”He showed me the course, then went on, kind of helped me clean it up.”
From 1985 to 2002, Maj. (Tom) McFarland, who Fulford called a gem, was the cross country coach at Harlem and plans on assisting Winter with whatever he needs. He was instrumental in Harlem having their own cross country course. Today’s runners will be on the same loop.
“When I first got there in ’85, we ran down Clary Cut Road which was a dirt or gravel road,” McFarland said. “The kids used to call it ‘Rattlesnake Road’ because they’d see rattlesnakes when they were running, every so often. When the county decided to pave the road, I went ahead and got the powers that be and we built a track around Harlem High School. A lot of folks liked to come run there because it was a true cross country track and it was not on public land, you didn’t have to cross any public roads or anything like that.”
Winter noted the program will pay dividends across the board.
“It also helps the track team,” Winter said. “It gets those guys and girls who run track that aren’t conditioning year round with other sports. Now they can come out here and run cross country. Our basketball coaches are getting players here, baseball coaches are getting players out here. Really cross country will help the whole athletic program.”