Marc Bloom's 'Amazing Racers' First Look: FM's Gender Equity

Gender Equity Empowers F-M Girls

--Second in a Five-Part Series--

A MileSplit Exclusive first look at the themes and stories from the upcoming book about the most successful HS distance running program of the past two decades.

In 2014, Manlius became the first team to ever win both the girls and boys Championship Race in the same year at NXN.

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It was not easy. It took every tool Bill Aris had at his disposal. There would be detours. But Aris would not relent. He believed in nothing more fervently: that when it came to running, boys and girls were the same. Did sameness mean "equal" in terms of effort, attitude, toughness and sense of purpose? Aris would find out. His operation was a test.  Gender equity, treating male and female alike, had never really been applied to a high school team before--not like this.

The Aris experiment with the girls began in 2006. Fayetteville was then two years into its new Stotan learning with the boys and the results were undeniable: New York State, State Federation and Manhattan Invitational championships both years; team time course records at Van Cortlandt Park, Bowdoin Park and elsewhere; two podium finishes (a second, and then a third on the short end of a second-place tiebreaker) at Nike Cross Nationals. 

But what impressed the girls and started to massage their psyches were not the titles and records; it was the boys' pristine teamwork and the aura they gave off tackling the hardest workouts with zest and clarity. They ran for each other, following the Aris commandment of selflessness. They "spoke" Stotan. 

The girls sensed that in the boys' transformation they possessed a certain mystique, as though answering to a higher calling. The girls wanted a piece of that. The veterans in particular were envious-"where's our lakeside summer camp?" They did not realize that the next year, in 2007, when they were ready for it, they too would head north for the delights of the Adirondacks. 

By 2006, the girls were further intrigued by the greatest Stotan of them all, Tommy Gruenewald, starting his senior year. Gruenewald embodied every Stotan principle, as though grain from Percy Cerutty's Portsea, Australia sand dunes had penetrated his DNA. That fall, Gruenewald was coming off a spring season in which his track heroics included a come-from-behind anchor 1600 to give Fayetteville the coveted Penn Relays boys distance medley relay crown.

Some of the younger F-M girls like Courtney Chapman, however, at first regarded the Stotan program with trepidation. Chapman had developed a running interest while still playing basketball and was talked onto the varsity lineup when Aris opened her mind to grander ambition. Chapman was too new to assess the boys' mystique; what she pondered was training into the summer night as impatient parents waited with their lights glaring and dinner on the table. Courtney fretted about what she was getting herself into.

One day at Green Lakes, Aris laid it out for them: the Cerutty concepts, the Stotan belief system, the high-minded way of living and left it for the girls to decide: Everything the same as the boys. Same workouts, same all-as-one team style, same close-the-door group encounter sessions if need be, same calling out on an individual basis if need be. No "little girls." Boys and girls would function as one team, a team of Stotans.

There was no talk of winning or PRs or state or nationals. Just talk of ideas, the Aris orchestration tickling the mind, planting "What ifs...?" that season in Mackenzie Carter, Kathryn Buchan, Jessica Hauser, Hilary Hooley, Molly Malone, Catie Caputo, and young Chapman (three seniors, a sophomore, two freshmen and the 8th grade Courtney), the top seven.

It's up to you, young ladies.

They said yes.

The FM Girls would win their first Federation Title in 2007

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There would be emotional upheaval and, at times, tears. Tears of joy, frustration, love, unity, triumph; of discovering new strengths, of growing up, of teammates not coming through; of teammates settling differences, of trying to match the boys-the same hills, loops, circuits, road courses; the same digging in despite rain and snow and wind and blizzards. The same Bill "looks": the ones that said, you did well, you got it, bravo; and the other looks that said, with magisterial body language added, no extra charge, "What happened to shared suffering?"

Suddenly, there they were in November: these young women. It was "suddenly" to others, but not to F-M. To Fayetteville it was four months in the making, a third of a year, over 120 days, learning, learning more, then as one, seven girls learning all the lessons, figuring them out each in her own way, older girls as Aris helpers, showing the path... being accountable, the most important thing of all at F-M, because you will be held accountable later in life.

What happened after that is still recalled with reverence, same as the earlier boys that were emulated. The seven young ladies who had come to cross-country from other sports-soccer, lacrosse, swimming, basketball-demonstrated the value of their Stotan cause and the ways of living they adopted with a championship sweep. First they won state, then Feds, then Nationals, by 50 points, the first of seven straight and 11 of 13, acquiring an aura of their own. In all three of those 2006 meets, F-M defeated the previous two NXN champions from 2004 (Saratoga Springs) and 2005 (Hilton).

When Aris had told the girls "the process was the goal," probably uttered by every cross-country coach in America, it was not just a cliché. In tackling the boys' template, the girls were, at first, almost jarred into submission. One girl from the '06 team told me she had to literally crawl up a steep hill in training. That same girl summarized her learning and subsequent success like this: "Despite obstacles, we can do hard things." Another girl on that squad said she came close to faking an injury when asked to do a final circuit after more than an hour of hills. After a break-out workout some weeks later, in which she kept up with a teammate she'd considered her superior, she too found transcendence, saying, "When you are surrounded by people who push you, you will be lifted to greatness."

Gender equity led to gender synergy. One girl told me, "The boys are part of us." Another said, drawing on mind and body alike, said, "The boys push us and we push them." A boy on a later team said the boys respected the girls as equals no less willing "to lay it out there every day."

Tomorrow: The F-M Peanut Butter Fix

Manlius athletes training as one group during the Summer Months

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Marc Bloom was the editor of four national running magazines including Harrier XC, which led to the start of NXN and Great American. "Amazing Racers," Bloom's tenth book, will be published August 6 by Pegasus Books. That same day, on Tuesday, Aug. 6, the book will be launched with a Barnes & Noble event in the Syracuse area, at the branch in DeWitt. Bloom and Aris will speak and sign books. Former F-M athletes will be in attendance. All are welcome. More information to come. "Amazing Racers" can be purchased at Amazon and wherever books are sold.