For a sport in which the object is to get somewhere fast, six years is a long time to stay in one place.
Ray Bennett did just that, and has now decided to move on after his six-year stint as head coach of the Youngsville cross country program. Though he admits the decision to step down was difficult, it's a choice he made months ago at the end of the 2012 season.
"I didn't want to say anything to the kids at the time, but after Kellie Lindstrom's race at regions, I pretty much knew," said Bennett. "Coaching cross country is a big-time commitment. I've got grandkids that are four- and eight-years-old who live in New Jersey. Getting out to see them just isn't possible to do with a cross country schedule."
Bennett took over the job in 2007 following the departure of previous head coach Rob Rose. He was approached by team members Kelsey Stoner and Devon Gruver, who asked if he would consider making the jump to coaching.
"I'm very passionate about running,"he said. "I knew several kids from the area who said I'd be an 'okay' coach," said Bennett, a graduate of Redbank Valley High School. "I never ran cross country in school. They didn't have it where I came from."
Bennett had no prior coaching experience before taking the job, but it didn't take long for the Eagles to find success under his watch.
"The first race I ever coached, our kid won," said Bennett. "Will Robinault broke the tape at Fairview, and I said 'hey, we should just do this every time.'"
Bennett sent runners to states six times over the course of his coaching career. Will Robinault placed 158th in 2007, Abel Robinault placed 239th and Morgan Eastman 106th in 2008, Abel Robinault 120th and Devon Gruver 122nd in 2009, and Abel Robinault 31st in 2010. In addition, Will Robinault, Morgan Eastman, Abel Robinault, Devon Gruver, Kellie Lindstrom, and Eli Gruver were all named region all-stars during his tenure.
One of Bennett's fondest race memories was the 2008 district meet in which Morgan Eastman qualified for states, despite losing a shoe almost immediately after the start. She was able to finish the race with a good enough time to qualify, carrying one shoe and slamming it down at the finish.
"There were lots of memories just watching the kids race and all the fun they had together," said Bennett. "Our 'mud runs' from Agway to the (Brokenstraw) airport, where running through the mud puddles was mandatory, those were as memorable as the competitions."
While Bennett and his runners have had their share of success in competitions, he admits that simply watching the kids grow over the years has been one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
"Watching the 7th graders come in who go from having no idea about what it takes to be part of an athletic program grow into juniors and seniors, and then some go on to run in college has been great. I think I've gotten more out of it than they have," said Bennett. "They're all extraordinary kids, and it wasn't an easy decision to come to. It's been a great ride."