Shady Side Academy's first-ever cross country team for students in grade 3-5 made its historic debut on Thursday, Sept. 14, with a scrimmage race in Frick Park against Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Urban Christian School.
In its very first season, a total of 41 boys and girls in grades 3-5 joined the team, including 36 SSA Junior School students and five SSA Country Day School students. The team is based at the Junior School in Point Breeze and practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, running the nearby trails in Frick Park.
The team was started this summer by Junior School physical education teacher Karen DiFiore, who serves as co-head coach alongside Junior School third grade teacher Dan Stern. Assistant coaches are Junior School counselor Claudine Runnette and Junior School first grade assistant teacher Melissa Petitto.
"I wanted to introduce our students to the sport of cross country so that they could experience running as a competitive sport," said DiFiore. "I wanted them to see and feel what it was like to train for a race, and then see the results of their efforts in competitive meets. Cross country is an all-inclusive sport, and everyone can experience success on some level, either individually, collectively as a team, or both."
"Having 40+ boys and girls in grades 3-5 participate for our inaugural season exceeded my expectations, and I am already anticipating a larger team next year. It also has been a great way for the Junior School kids to connect with the Country Day kids that are participating with them."
At Thursday's scrimmage, the young runners had the chance to get their feet wet – literally, running in a light rain – as to how a cross country course looks and feels, and the nerves and excitement of race day. The girls' race was first, followed by the boys' race, along a 1.1-mile course in Frick Park. The SSA runners showed great determination and team spirit, with the boys cheering on the girls with chants of "SSA! SSA!" and then vice versa.
The team's first regular-season meet will be Sunday, Sept. 17, at the Frick Park Sacred Heart Invitational, which will include more than 400 runners from several schools. The team also will compete in meets on Sept. 23, Sept. 28 and Oct. 1 in Frick Park.
Good luck, SSA!