Coronado High School, with 30 students who lost homes to the Waldo Canyon fire, became the first school in Colorado Springs School District 11 on Tuesday to receive a Spirit of the Springs award from the hands of Mayor Steve Bach.
It was really an award for cross country coach Doug Hugill, to laude the smashing success of his varisity 4A boys team that claimed the state championship two weeks ago. But for Hugill and some of the nine champion boys, it remains more than just a championship, more than just a good team.
“A lot of them were impacted by the fire,” Hugill explained. “They had families staying with them, or they were evacuated. But in the first one minute of practice, we said this will not define us.”
Like it or not, the fire did change things for the team. In June, smoke stalled its rigorous year-round training, several runners were displaced by the flames, and one lost his home.
But the runners didn’t need more than that one minute at the season’s start to reflect on the school’s new moto — “Cougar nation doesn’t burn!” — and get their feet back on the trail, Hugill said.
“We’re not gonna sit around and sing ‘Kumbaya.’ We’re going to win the state championship,” he said.
One boy in particular fought hard against the training setbacks, as he had been fighting hard to make the varsity team, Hugill said. Senior Schuyler Vanderluis finished 22nd in the state, within the top 10 percent of the 224 runners competing in the championship. Vanderluis struggled training in the smoke, and his family lost its home to the flames, Hugill said.
“The fire kind of put him down,” he said. But once the team got together, getting two new, strong members from out of state, his momentum picked up. “He rose to the highest level, I’ll say.”
For smoke to derail a runner’s training schedule was a blow indeed for cross country athletes who run between 2,000 and 2,500 miles a year, in the rain, heat or snow. For their spirit, they were awarded with a low-key ceremony with Bach in a Coronado classroom on Tuesday morning. The championship team lined up in front of their trophies and faced the mayor and Councilman Tim Leigh, as they were each presented a certificate. Hugill got a carved class trophy and the school got a Spirit of the Springs banner.
“Not every school has one,” Leigh told the boys, Hugill and principal David Engstrom. “So it’s a coveted award.”
The boys’ parents snapped their photos with the mayor; Hugill’s petite mother, half the size of the mayor, stood between Bach and her son for a photo, as well. While Engstrom gave the boys a congratulatory pep talk, Bach playfully pulled one of the team’s red and yellow pom-pom hats over Leigh’s ears. The victory should be something they talk about for the rest of the year, Engstrom told the boys.
“We stayed steady. They provided the stability,” Hugill said. “We did change but we stayed strong.”
Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261