Itís Academics First

For STHS Cross-Country Athletes

-Coach Stresses Grades, Family Atmosphere

By John Medalen

Staff Writer

Santa Teresa High Schoolís cross-country coach, Mike Dudley, takes a unique approach to running his team. " My programs are academics-driven before athletics," said Dudley. And with tough training and studying, his teams are able to win on and off the field of play.

In three years, his cross-country teams have gone from 3 scholar athletes to 22 out of 30 on last yearís team. The girlsí team was 7th among all 140 high schools in the Central Coast Section (CCS) as a scholar team with a GPA of 3.762. The secret to their success is that Dudley stresses good grades above all else.

"I want the athletes to be able to concentrate on the development of the sport and not have to sweat bullets about grades," he explained. "If youíre on the bubble, I want to take you to parents, teachers and counselors to get your grades squared away. You have to be a solid student. If youíre not, Iíll be the first one to help you, but if youíre not there you wonít be able to participate."

"These kids understand that athletics are a privilege, not a right. They know that grades are their ticket out, not athletics, yet they are also having the most success of any team at the school athletically," Dudley said. Last year, the boys and girls were the only two teams from all STHS sports to make it to CCS FINALS.

Off To A Good Start

The athletes train hard for two months during the summer at the coaches annual "Boot Camp", and the hard work shows. At this yearís Earlybird Invite, held in North Monterey County, 50 high schools from all over California competed. Itís one of the largest invitationalís in the state. "We had 26 personal records set at the meet, a team championship, and an individual champion [by Erika Nowack, a varsity freshman]," Dudley recalled.

The junior varsity girls won their championship, and two of the varsity girls finished in the top 30 out of 180 girls. Junior Kevin Boockholdt finished 20th our of 150, and freshman Ariel Gubatina finished 21st out of 183 in his race. Gubatina has been running since 7th grade, but in elementary school he played a lot of tag.

"I think that was good conditioning," Gubatina said. "Iíve been working hard on my grades because I donít want to get kicked off the team. Even though weíre good, coach is not afraid to get us off the team if we donít keep our grades up."

The family atmosphere Dudley nurtures is evident as well. "Weíve known each other a long time, and weíve learned to be family. He tells us to keep it fun, that it should be fun. He tells us that people should interact and support each other," Gubatina said.

Junior Nicole Haggerty is the varsity team leader, and one of the four team captains. According to Dudley, "She sets a great example. She was part of the CCS FINALS team from last year." At the Earlybird, Haggerty finished 42nd out of 166 runners in her race. She also ran a personal record that was 2 minutes and 53 seconds faster than last year at the Earlybird.

"We lost a lot of old people and got new good ones. Lat year I didnít think I could do better, but this year I thought I could step up," she said.

She too, gets the coaches message about grades. "The school requirement is a 2.0GPA or greater, with no more than two "Fís". Coach Dudley goes by those requirements, be he says he wants a 3.0. If weíre below 2.0, weíre off the team. He believes that grades are important. Grades are the first priority and athletics are second. He such a great guy, you want to keep up your grades."

Regarding the family atmosphere, Haggerty agrees. "Even though [there are] mixed sexes, weíre all here for each other. We can tell each other anything. It contributes to our success because we have so many people support us. Coach is like my second dad, here for us for anything, even if itís not about cross-country."