As the fall sports seasons come to a close, the cross country teams are out in front — again.

Last weekend, both the boys and girls teams qualified for the all-state meet taking place this weekend, after stellar performances at the Division 5 South Sectional tournament. The boys team won the championship and the girls team took sixth place.

Last year, both teams also represented the Vineyard at the state tournament, with the girls team placing first in the south sectional meet and the boys team placing sixth.

This continues a long tradition on the Island of fast runners. If Kenya has its high altitude success stories, the Vineyard is adept at producing sea level speedsters. In the early 2000s the boys cross country team notched seven straight Mayflower League titles while the girls earned nine Mayflower titles in 10 years.

Perhaps part of the answer can be found in the abundance of wooded trails here or the enduring independent spirit of an Islander which transfers, it would seem, so readily to the loneliness of the long distance runner.

And yet, although there is no ball to pass to a teammate or communal huddle to create plays, cross country running is not a solitary sport where a single runner can carry the weight of the stop watch. To win a meet or championship is a cumulative journey, the time of all the runners factoring into the final result. Captains Peter Burke and Catherine Cherry may set the tone, but the pace is set by teamwork and inspiring each other to new heights. For proof look no further than Zach Utz besting his personal record by 25 seconds for the division championship race.

Kudos to the coach, too, who provides the framework for all of this. Coach Joe Schroeder was at the helm of all those Mayflower titles and his steady pace still shines today. In a 2007 interview with the Gazette, Coach Schroeder said: “I’d be willing to bet if you stopped 10 people on the street and asked them how the cross country team was doing, a lot of them wouldn’t know the high school had a cross country team.”

Well, they certainly do now.


Last weekend also saw heartbreak and the opposite of what sports is supposed to teach: sportsmanship.

Following the boys soccer team’s loss to Norwell High School, two Vineyard players shoved the referee, the egregious act caught on video. The consequences were swift. Both players were suspended for a year, and in a subsequent meeting the Vineyard coach was suspended for two games. The high school will also have to undergo training and education in sportsmanship for soccer high school coaches and team captains, and specially trained liaisons will attend home and away games.

This is a good thing.

There can be no tolerance for this kind of behavior. Emotions run high in sports, from youth leagues to the pros. When properly focused, they can produce a valuable competitive edge. But athletes need to learn to master their tempers and to understand that failing to do so has consequences. Coaches too have a responsibility to set the tone each day in practice as well as at every game. Fans can be culpable too, as fomenting in the stands or even at home can often be the match that lights the flame.

Principal Sara Dingledy ’s immediate and unequivocal condemnation of the students’ actions was commendable. In a letter to all parents at the high school she stated: “The ensuing behavior of a couple of MVRHS players after the call was an embarrassment to our program and our school community.”

That her letter was sent to all school families offers the opportunity for something good to come of this. Like sportsmanship, civility in all human relationships is a fragile construct that doesn’t just happen by itself. It requires people of good faith to teach their children how to behave and to endeavor to be role models for that behavior. It is a reminder to us all that we can help define the kind of community we want to be part of by our own actions.