Small School, Big Story Part 1: Up In The Mountains

Over the next month we at MileStat are going to take a deep dive (in three separate parts) into the Parry McCluer XC program and its interesting twists, turns, and storylines. 

Up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley is the town of Buena Vista. Home to a whopping 6,650 people or roughly the same amount of people as Lake Braddock and T.C. Williams high school combined. 

In this town lies Parry McCluer high school, founded in 1920 and home to 336 students. The school is also home to one of the best cross country teams in Class 1 this year. 

This team is chasing history and trying to make history as well. As a school they have made the states podium eight times with only one team title way back in 1980. 

Individually they've also had three state runner-ups and two XC State Champions in David Fitzgerald (1980) and Kevin Cropp (1973). 

Though they have won the big one before, it has been a long time. 39 years to be exact. That coupled with their 2nd place finishes by just nine, seven, and even three points show us that they are more than hungry for their next title. 

That is what is at stake this season and we will discuss that further in our third part of this series titled "Little Town, Big Goals". 

Here though we are going to discuss what its like at a small school with a small team chasing a big dream. 

Throughout this week we have been highlighting some of the best stars in our state from small schools. Think of Foot Locker finalist Trish Nervo or VA #2 Kelsey Harrington or multiple-time state champion Nolan Harris formerly of Auburn. 

These stars are the real deal and could be stars on any team in the state, for many of which they would be the greatest ever at that school. So why do we see less small school stars than the bigger schools? 

It really comes down to three things. Those things are culture, coaching, and numbers. All three are intertwined but also very distinct. 

Small School Culture 

One of the things that is true for school size is also true as it relates to basically any event in our state. This can be summed up by one statement: athletes are going to try to be the best amongst their peers, meaning the athletes they actually compete against. 

When you think of it this way it makes a lot more sense why an athlete from a small school can go on to run and win titles in the NCAA or why it is just as hard to win a hurdles title in the 6A Region as it is at States. 

Athletes compete against their peers and the athletes around them. 

When you surround athletes around faster and faster individuals their times are going to get faster. Just look at how fast Class 1/2 Indoor States is now thanks in no small part to Maggie Walker

Maggie Walker for years was a powerhouse in the AAA division until 2014 when the VHSL realigned schools based on student population. This led to MW dropping down to Class 2 and for the first few years, absolutely dominating the smaller classification. 

Fast forward a few years later and there are now some serious runners and teams running faster than ever. Even in events that some teams wanted to get rid of, we're talking about you Pole Vault, you can even see a huge improvement. 

Star athletes are everywhere. The question though is are they going to be pushed and trained to be great or just compete with what is around them. 

Small School Coaching 

Many people will say that great high school coaches are better than good college coaches. You could also say that is statement true as it relates between large and small high schools. Simply put, it is sometimes much harder to coach at a small school than at a large school. 

Coaching at a small school has many difficulties that affect both the program and athletes. The first of those difficulties is funding. 

Though there certainly are exceptions, it is generally understood that the smaller the town the smaller the school the smaller the budget. This can leave coaches worried more about fundraising than training for a meet.