Ode to Gaithersburg
By: Various Writers
Photo Art By: Joe Cudjoe
Monday, November 01, 2010

By Jossi Fritz-Mauer and Kevin Milsted

October 23 represented more than just the culminating Montgomery County Championship meet for the 2010 season; in all likelihood, it was also the final chapter in Gaithersburg High School as host of the meet. In all but one year between 2000 and 2010, Gaithersburg served as the focal point as teams from all over Montgomery County brought their teams to be crowned as champion. The athlete appreciation for the venue became abundantly clear when the announcement of the discontinuation was met with boos and moans at this year's county championship awards ceremony.

Gaithersburg High School Athletic Director Jason Woodward cautions that the announcement may have been premature. It is anticipated that on-campus construction will render the Gaithersburg cross country course unusable for the next several years; however, Woodward states that there will not be a determination concerning the county meet "...until we actually get the final plans of the construction process and what areas are going to be blocked off."

While the determination is not finalized, Montgomery County coaches are already looking to the future. As the sun sets on the tenure of the Gaithersburg course as host, now seems an appropriate time to reflect on what the site has meant. Whether we find ourselves in a new location or back at Gaithersburg next year, let this article serve as a tribute to a decade's worth of championship meets from the perspective of the athletes, coaches, and officials that lived through it.

What can be said of the course at Gaithersburg? It was a course that proved to be inclusive. Even though it functioned as a championship meet, all runners could participate, and by the end it offered not just a JV race, but separate divisions by grade for 9/10 and 11/12. The contributions to a team's success go past just the 5 scorers or the 7 varsity members, and it was great that a championship meet recognized that and let everyone participate. The sport is better off when everyone's commitment allows them to participate as fully as possible; after all, you never know which non-varsity member is going to develop into the next county champion. And that inclusivity extended beyond the individual. Along the way, a lot of schools found their success at Gaithersburg. All in all, a total of 9 schools could claim either an individual or team champion. Runners from 17 of the 25 schools had individuals earn top ten medals.

Though perhaps not capable of arousing the same level of devotion (or ire) as a place like Hereford, people's respect of the Gaithersburg course derived from its fairness and honesty. When you walked the course, you could see yourself being successful there among the rest of the county. A course neither too easy nor too hard, it brought the best out in athletes by allowing all to believe that their best might be enough to win. The Gaithersburg course saw its fair share of distance specialists triumph, but at the same time, milers were not excluded from the victory parade, and on one occasion a would-be 500m county champion was able to pull off the victory. There's nothing better for fans than watching a race in which everyone has a shot at winning, and that explains why more often than not, the top placers were separated by no more than a handful of seconds. Repeat champions were the exception rather than the norm, which only serves to underscore the achievements of the rare few who were able to conquer the county more than once at Gaithersburg.

Why, then, only ten out of the last eleven years? The single year that the county championship meet was moved away from Gaithersburg is, in the minds of many, the most memorable for all the wrong reasons. A sniper terrorized the entire DC metro area, setting off a frenzy of mayhem and media coverage when he shot and killed five random people in Montgomery County on October 3, 2002. Montgomery County Public Schools suspended all outdoor activities for three weeks until the suspects were apprehended two days prior to the scheduled XC county championship meet. To ensure the safety of all competitors and spectators, the meet was moved to John Poole Middle School in Poolesville where access into and out of the town is restricted. As you will read later in this article, Gaithersburg athlete Eric Pauley used tactics to pull off an upset victory for his first county title at home in 2001, but the meet's move to Poolesville in 2002 might have been detrimental to his ability to defend that title, and Awit Yohannes of Magruder won the 2002 county title. The meet returned to Gaithersburg the following year.

And what of the course records? Two-time state champion Marcus Hershberger of Gaithersburg and three-time state champion Karen Pulliam of Quince Orchard set the bars high in 2000 with inaugural records of 16:14.7 and 18:45.3. In 2003, Walter Johnson's Andrew Jesien obliterated Hershberger's record with a time of 15:48.44 while Blair's Halsey Sinclair essentially tied Pulliam's record with a time of 18:45.39 as a freshman. Sinclair would lower the record to 18:28.7 in 2004 and win two more individual titles before Morgane Gay of Whitman shocked the county with an upset win and new record of 18:14.5 in 2006. Gay lowered the record to 18:09.42 in 2007 while Quince Orchard Neal Darmody took down Jesien's record with a time of 15:41.09. The following year, Solomon Haile immigrated to the United States and enrolled at Sherwood High School. Haile chopped a whopping thirty seconds off the course record to set the bar at 15:11.62 before moving on to break the state course record at Hereford High School and win the Footlocker National Cross Country title. Haile is now among the top runners in the SEC while Gay is among the elite in the ACC.

Ten years is a long time, and the county underwent changes along the way, too. Northwest has gone from the new kid on the block to perennial contender, and two more schools (Clarksburg and Northwood) have opened/reopened in the last decade. The county meet at Gaithersburg has always meant a lot to the participants, but through the years that importance has become more accessible to everyone as the meet and spectacle around the races has grown. With the help of Pacers and New Balance, it seems appropriate that the most technologically advanced cross country meet in the country would coincide with the final year at Gaithersburg - a fitting tribute to a site that gave so much to so many, year after year. Only time will tell how subsequent editions of the county meet at future sites will go over, but if this is to be the final championship running at the Gaithersburg site, its place in the hearts and history books will be secure.

Continue reading for memories and testimonials contributed by Montgomery County coaches, officials, and former Gaithersburg county course champions.

Montgomery County Public Schools
Cross Country Champions 2000-2010
Year Name School Time Site Team Champion
2010 Anna Ryba Whitman 18:27.16 Gaithersburg Whitman
2009 Jessie Rubin Wootton 18:49.0 Gaithersburg Walter Johnson
2008 Britt Eckerstrom Northwest 18:41.44 Gaithersburg Northwest
2007 Morgane Gay Whitman 18:09.4 Gaithersburg Churchill
2006 Morgane Gay Whitman 18:14.5 Gaithersburg Northwest
2005 Halsey Sinclair Blair 18:59.0 Gaithersburg Northwest
2004 Halsey Sinclair Blair 18:28.7 Gaithersburg Northwest
2003 Halsey Sinclair Blair 18:45.4 Gaithersburg Northwest
2002 Ashley St. Denis Walter Johnson 19:58.6 John Poole Middle School Walter Johnson
2001 Karen Pulliam Quince Orchard 18:55.0 Gaithersburg Walter Johnson
2000 Karen Pulliam Quince Orchard 18:45.3 Gaithersburg Walter Johnson
Year Name School Time Site Team Champion
2010 Chris Miller Northwest 15:37.31 Gaithersburg Walter Johnson
2009 Andrew Palmer Whitman 15:43.0 Gaithersburg Walter Johnson
2008 Solomon Haile Sherwood 15:11.62 Gaithersburg Walter Johnson
2007 Neal Darmody Quince Orchard 15:41.1 Gaithersburg Quince Orchard
2006 Chris Moen Walter Johnson 15:55.3 Gaithersburg Quince Orchard
2005 Ryan Janes Gaithersburg 16:15.0 Gaithersburg Sherwood
2004 Andrew Jesien Walter Johnson 15:50.8 Gaithersburg Gaithersburg
2003 Andrew Jesien Walter Johnson 15:48.4 Gaithersburg Gaithersburg
2002 Awit Yohannes Magruder 16:25.1 John Poole Middle School Northwest
2001 Eric Pauley Gaithersburg 16:21.9 Gaithersburg Northwest
2000 Marcus Hershberger Gaithersburg 16:14.7 Gaithersburg Gaithersburg

By Herb Tolbert, Gaithersburg High School Coach

As the meet director for the county cross country championships these past 9-10 years I have many memories, some fond and some not so fond. However, at this time I choose not to dwell on the not so fond ones.

I would have to say the very first one is my favorite one for several reasons. I remember the day to be just perfect for a meet. The sun was shining brightly, the temperature was just about perfect, and the atmosphere was electric. Since the meet was being held on a Thursday afternoon, many of the teachers and staff from the high school came out to observe and cheer the Trojans on. Needless to say the Trojans didn't disappoint. In the boys meet, Marcus Hershberger and Aaron Anderson captured first and second place leading the Trojans to there first of three county titles during the decade. They scored 57 points and beat 2nd place WJ by a wide margin. On the Girls side, Trojan Megan Kirby followed Quince Orchard runner Karen Pullium home to finish second and lead the lady Trojans to a second place finish. Ironically the WJ girls captured first place and beat the Trojans 82-85.

The 2005 meet is another unforgettable one. Prior to the race it had rained for a couple of days and the course was absolutely soaked. For a while we weren't sure if the meet could even be held. On race day things cleared up and we had pretty good weather. However, that didn't mean all of the water had disappeared. The water was so deep that in spots it was knee deep. One of the best pictures ever on MOCO [photo published by the Gazette] was a picture of the start of the boys race showing the leaders as they charged through the near knee deep water. This was cross country as it should be.

Finally, this year's race, being the last was truly the best. From the first one in 2000 when everything was done by hand to all of the bells and whistles provided for this last one by Pacers. We've come a long way from handing out cards to each runner, putting their name and school on the card and then turning them in to be tallied....pulling tags from the race numbers and putting them on hangers to keep them in proper finish order. More than once we did drop them but were able to get them back in order, for the most part. Not to mention trying to time and score the meet. Results took a little longer than it did this past Saturday when Pacers had team results before the last runner in each race crossed the finish line. Can you believe following a runner's progress by checking a computer instead of running around the course like a madman?

How about video and pictures on the web for others miles away to see. Was facebook around in 2000? What about youtube? My, how things have changed.

Because of the construction on the new school (it's about time), it appears that the 2010 edition of the county meet was the last for at least several years. Over the past several months I have been involved with the architects and they promised that after the construction, the course would be intact. We'll see! So maybe this isn't the last time the county meet will be run at GHS. If it is, it's been a pleasure. Special thanks to all who've helped make the Montgomery County Cross Country Championships the best in the State. You know who you are!
-Yours in running, Herb Tolbert

By Nick Caretti, Clarksburg High School Coach, Former Gaithersburg High School Coach

I started coaching at Gaithersburg in 1996 as an assistant to Herb Tolbert. During my first few years the county championship was at Watkins Mill High School. Then Watkins Mill's coach Al Bellman left to become the AD at the new Blake High School. The championship then moved to the lightning-fast Blake course for a few years. In 2000 we volunteered to take over the championship at Gaithersburg. Because the start of the Gaithersburg "dual meet" course couldn't handle a large number of runners, we had to design a new course. Unfortunately, programs like Google Maps were in their infancy so I had to get the wheel out and measure potential sections of the course every day. A common conversation between Herb and I would be: "If we go around the bushes that will add 217 feet so we have to cut off 217 feet somewhere else." Finally after a lot of walking and metric conversions, I felt very proud that we created the finest, most enjoyable course in Montgomery County .

Anybody that runs on a cross country team for four years is usually sick and tired of running the same routes in practice day after day, year after year. I can hear the groans when I tell my own team that "we are running to the gate and back today." Having coached at Gaithersburg for 10 years (1996-2005) you can only imagine how many times I ran that course in practice. Amazingly, I never got tired of running it. Maybe it was because I felt some ownership to the course or maybe because it really was a perfect place to run.

Like most coaches, my fondest memories are from the success that my athletes had. I was fortunate enough to see Marcus Hershberger and Aaron Anderson finish 1-2 in 2000, Eric Pauley pull off an upset victory in 2001 under bitter cold conditions, and headband-wearing Ryan Janes win in 2005 and set off a fashion trend.

A memory that I'm sure all coaches can relate to is standing at the 900 meter mark of the race and cheering their runners on, then turning around running through the field, up the hill, through the endless parking lots and into the big field near Rt. 355 to catch the runners at the halfway point. Then turning around and running back. I imagine that in the past 11 years many coaches have done this run 30-50 times.

Another memory that I'll take with me is standing on the track announcing the winners and repeating the same female names year after year ("The winner of the 1999...2000...2001 Montgomery County Championship is Karen Pulliam...The winner of the Halsey Sinclair. The winner of the Morgane Gay").

My final memory is that at about 2:00 pm every year after the athletes and spectators are gone and the cleanup is done, walking to my car, shaking Herb's hand and saying "See you Monday."

By Beth Muehl, Northwest High School Coach

First and foremost, the Montgomery County Cross Country Championship is the best meet of the season. All twenty-five teams on the line at once with no distinction between region/state classifications is the essence of this sport. Anybody can be county champion - and there is only one. There is only one runner each year who can walk away at the end of the morning knowing that on that given day they were the best in the county. In addition to this, the county meet is the best meet of the season since many of the coaches are friends and have an opportunity to have a healthy competition with each other. It is a unique fraternity that the Montgomery County cross country coaches have and one that is special to so many of us.

The course at Gaithersburg has brought many smiles to the faces of varsity and junior varsity runners alike. It is a course that allows for positive results at the end of the season for most of the runners. For a kid who was new to running on August 15 and was struggling through a mile on that first day of practice, Gaithersburg is a gift: a gift of realization. They realize how far they have come in a relatively short time period. It has been a true blessing to watch many kids transform themselves through the season and become runners at Gaithersburg. To see the smiles and the laughter five minutes after crossing the finish line because they raced their PR brings a smile to the coaches' faces. This positive result is for the varsity as well. It gives the top seven the opportunity to test themselves as a team and to race fast for each other.

There are so many great individual memories of Gaithersburg and each runner and coach that has had the privilege of being a part of it can sit back and smile at the ones that mean the most to them. Gaithersburg will be missed.

By Angelique Bosse, Former Blair High School Coach

When I was a coach at Montgomery Blair, it was always a highlight of the season to come together with all the other Montgomery County teams for the County Championship at Gaithersburg High School. Even before one enters the main driveway, packs of teams can be seen warming up as they wind their way around the field and down the loop close to route 355. Setting up a team area was always part of the fun. Every team seems to congregate at their same locations year after year. As the tarps and tents were set up, the coaches would gather for the pre-race meeting. The Gaithersburg hosts always had a warming room with breakfast refreshments and coaches could be heard greeting each other with occasional laughter breaking the nervous tension.

No matter the level of competition, every race at Gaithersburg was run with the same energy and enthusiasm on the part of the runners, coaches, and spectators. With the open course, very visible to fans, the crowd can be seen shifting from the starting area to various spots around the field in Bohrer Park and then back to the finish area. As a coach, and later as a spectator, I would always argue with myself whether it was better to get to the Bohrer field by cutting through the wooded path closer to the runners, or to lose site of the race briefly and run the other way around through the school gates to the paved path that runs by that teeny little cemetery...

Cheers, cowbells, and stern voices of coaches follow the runners throughout much of the course. Every runner, from the junior varsity up to the elite, can't help but feel supported by all the noise and excitement. I would love to see the relief, intensity, and joy of accomplishment on the faces of finishers as they headed toward the finish line, not too far from where the starter's gun went off just a short time before.

By Charlie Demma, Blair High School Coach

One very strong memory from the county championship at Gaithersburg was in 2007 when we had a new runner with developmental disabilities. This runner typically finished in about 30 minutes. There was only one JV race then. Nearly our entire team had finished, but this runner was still on the course, trying his best. One runner noticed him as he was trodding up the hill towards the end and alerted the rest of the team. Other teams saw this and Blair, along with runners from other school, made a human tunnel that he ran through before the finish. They were cheering him like crazy. It was pretty cool and made me really like the kind of people that tend to run cross country.

By Dave Warren, Kennedy High School Coach

A few things come to mind.

The Headband Episode
Ryan Janes was a great runner: gutsy as hell and pretty fun to watch. He went on to win the 2005 race in a nice duel with Chris Barnard, but when his headband fell off mid-race, Chris Moen, who was a few steps back, picked it up and put it on. He finished the race in third place as a sophomore with the trademark Janes headband. After that season, Janes never beat Moen again in a major race so it was sort of a passing of the torch. That really stands out.

The Impact of the Sinclairs
In 2003 not many people had an idea of who they were until the county meet. Heading up the hill into the park section of the course you had these two twins side by side. Everyone knew who the twins were after that and they really started a small revolution after that day. Halsey would win 3 of the 4 county races she ever ran and averaged 18:47 over 4 years. That's phenomenal but the level of competition increased so much after Halsey and Ashlyn came along. In 2000 the county had 17 girls break 21 minutes and in 02 we had 24. The last 4 years we have had 30, 41, 25 and 39. They basically said to the rest of the county that if you want to win you have to come through us.

Every year the Montgomery County Road Runners has an xc race in the early summer on the same course. Many of the high schoolers coming off of track come out and beat up on the older folks. One particular year, I was deathly out of shape and I think I ran a whole race out of fear of losing to Morgane Gay. She ended up running like 19:30 that day and I beat her by at most a second. 4 months later she would run 18:09. A month and a half later I ended up running a 1:25 half in Vegas so she helped me get my ass in gear.

By Kellie Redmond, Wootton High School Coach

We have truly loved our time at Gaithersburg. Coming there on the day of counties in late October always had a familiar feel; it seemed as though little time had passed as we set up our tent in the same spot year after year. If you were a JV runner it was the perfect way to end a season, setting a pr on a fast course. But it was also the perfect place to start your post season, feeling fast before battling the hills of Watkins Mill and Hereford. Gaithersburg was a course that was very cleverly designed, easy to follow, and little repetition. Whether you were in the solidarity of the parkland or the spectator heavy areas closer to the school there was always something magical about the day and the course. As coaches we witnessed our school having a county champion at Gaithersburg which will forever stay in our hearts and minds. But right up there are the hundred's of pr's that were also set there. Seeing the faces of those kids and the proud feelings that come from running a fast time, well, that can never be replaced. We will miss you Gaithersburg!

By Greg Dunston, Georgetown Prep Coach, Former Coach of Walter Johnson, Woodward, Richard Montgomery

I have seen the county meet grow and grow over forty years. Up until four years ago, I was coaching Walter Johnson HS. After retirement, I moved to coach at Gerogetown Prep. I have been coaching winter and spring track there for the past four years. However, after the surprise death of Rich Drozd at Prep, I became their cross-country coach.

I have many fond memories of all of the county meets from running at Lake Needwood to Watkins Mill to Blake to Gaithersburg. Many people may not be aware that the first girls cross-country meet was held by Kerry Ward at BCC when the girls were running as part of the boys' team. It was unofficial. The following year, Corky Logsdon and I held the girls race at Woodward HS. After Title Nine, the girls finally got a recognized program and meet. Dottie Rowe was the first female runner that I remember in the county. Fittingly, she ran for Gaithersburg and led the way for other girls that wanted to compete in cross-country.

WJ has had many successes over the past forty years at the county and state meets on both the boys and girls side. What I remember most is having the fastest boy in the county in Andrew Jesien and also having the slowest boy in Gautam Mani. Gautam was usually bringing up the tail of the JV race. But last year, after graduating from college he wrote Tom Martin and I to thank us. He continued to run all four years in college at a Division III school. I also remember when Nick Regan and Alex Willett went 1, 2 in the freshman race and here they are now running 2,3 in the varsity race. I've always enjoyed the camaraderie of the county coaches and I haven't found that yet in my new league. The county meet will always be special to me. By the way, I had the opportunity to coach Anna Bosse as a freshman at WJ and her mother, aunt, and uncle at Woodward HS.

By Steve Hays, Whitman High School Coach

I started coaching in 2000 the first year the county championship meet was at Gaithersberg. That year both the boys and girls teams were 4th place. The Gaithersburg site has always been the perfect ending to the regular season and the perfect beginning to the post season. It seems to always be a perfect fall day and it is a fast course where for most of the team it is the last race of the season. It's a great spectator course and year in and year out it's the most competitive post season meet we have; it gives you an idea of where you stack up. It also determines which division you will be in the following season so it's important in a different way than the other post season meets.

I have many fond memories of the course over the years but there are a few that really stick out. I'll always remember the 2006 championship when Cara Harrison from QO was heavily favored to win but I voted for a Whitman runner in the fan poll and by the time the runners came out of the woods that Whitman runner was on her way to a course record and her first county championship title (Morgane Gay). In that same year, the Boys team once again finished 2nd behind a powerful QO team after finishing 2nd behind Sherwood the year before.

Then again in 2007, I once again picked Morgane to win it all in the fan poll and she came through with another course record (18:09) leading Whitman to a second place finsh. A sophomore runner from Whitman (Andrew Palmer) gave his best to finish second to Neal Darmondy and help his team to a fourth consecutive top 3 finish and the best combined finsh for Whitman over the past 11 years.

I'll also remember the next year (2008), Andrew Palmer's best race, when he tried his best to stay with Solomon Haile and ran a personal best 15:28.

All great memories, but I will have to say that my most fond memory will have to be this past championship (2010) when, even after having a successful regular season, there where still those that didn't beleive we had what it took to win. When we got off the bus that morning (only Northwest was there) there was a full moon over the horizon and I said to the girls, "See the full moon? That's a magical sign, today is going to be a magical day!" The day started out with Whitman winning the 9/10 race going 1 and 2 and scoring 25 points. Coach Redmond from Wootton asked me if this was a preview of what was to come. I normally run to the mile mark and then to the two and then back to the finish but I was competing in a marathon the next day so I was content in using the awesome technology from Pacers (located in beautiful downtown Silver Spring). When the annoucer said the Anna Ryba had a 12 second lead over the number two runner Alexandra Phillips I knew we had it and I knew that Anna was going to win her first county championship (I also picked her in the poll, coaches just know these things). So we go 1 and 2 in the varsity race and win Whitman's first county championship since 1993 (before most of the kids on the team were even born). In the last race of the day, the 11/12 race we did't quite go 1 and 2 but we went 2 and 3 and swept all three girls races. It was very exciting and it was great to see the girls come together . . .for some of the girls I had never seen them show so much emotion it was awesome. It was a beautiful day at Gaithersburg that day, the leaves were falling, the temperature was perfect, that was cross country . . . the greatest sport on earth. I had to leave quickly from the awards ceremony that day to catch a plane to Buffalo, NY to run my marathon the next day. The girls all said, "Remember, it's a magical day." It was quite an adventure to say the least, too much to go on about here but I was inspired by the team's preformance and ran a PR (2:52), it truly was a magical weekend that all started that magical day at Gaithersburg School!

By Ray Boss, Official

No matter the season -- whether it's cross country, indoor or outdoor track -- the county championship remains my favorite meet. And there is no purer form of sport than cross country because everything is the same for each runner. Everybody lines up at the same place and at the same time, runs 3.1 miles and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. The weather is the same for everybody, officials rarely get involved (no jokes, please) and there is only one winner.

So these last 11 years at Gaithersburg have been very special to me. Sure, I'll remember the rain (especially in 2005 when I essentially worked for free because inches of mud rendered my shoes useless), the occasional complaint (usually by a parent), or a disqualification here and there. But the positive memories far outnumber the negatives and most of those memories center around the faces of runners who accomplished great things on such a fast course. I also will remember that Herb Tolbert was always prepared for the onslaught, that the coaches would be amped , but friendly toward each other, and that me and my fellow officials would be glad that we had been there.

Mostly, though, I will remember that I had the privilege of starting races that three of my four children participated in. I could mention their names, but you wouldn't know them because none of them excelled. They did, however, learn to compete, to fight through adversity and improve, to lose with grace, and to persevere. For that I will forever be grateful.

By Andrew Palmer, Whitman High School, County Champion 2009

Like any other cross country runner in MoCo, counties was a huge deal for me. I was a huge running nerd after my first week of cross country practice, and the MoCo Championships were something that I would key off of every year. They were a chance to prove myself as an individual and a chance to prove what the team could do. The MoCo meet was something special. It was when the real cross country season began: the start of Championship season.

I was fortunate enough to run well at counties in each of my four races there, but one really stands out to me, mainly for the confidence that I gained. The course always produced fast times, but that was not the key. I am a major believer in the rule that if you can run fast, you can run fast anywhere; the course does not matter. I do however think that that the confidence gained from a good run at the county meet is something that no other race can give you.

My sophomore cross country season was by far the worst season I have had in running up until the county meet. I was running significantly slower than my freshman year, and was so fed up with the sport. The day before the race my team would always go to the course, and I remember jogging it that morning, wondering what had gone wrong. I devised a race plan on that run that would change my season. I decided that I would go out slow, and really work the second and third miles. As the race wore on, I could not believe what was happening. I was moving up throughout the race, and by the two mile mark I found myself in second place, and could not believe my plan was working. That day I held on for second, but could not have been happier with my finish. I ran a huge personal best, but the confidence I gained was something I would not give up for anything. I knew that I was capable of running with the state's best. That fall I would go on to finish second at regionals and win my first state cross country championship. I fully believe that without a good county meet I would have not won the state championship, not because I was not fit enough, but because I was lacking the confidence in myself that I gained at the county championship.

By Jessie Rubin, Wootton, County Champion 2009

Each October when I would get off the bus at Gaithersburg high school, my stomach would drop. For most people on my team at least, the County Championships was always the most highly anticipated meet of the season. It was a day when everyone competed on a fast course, and for many of them, it was their last chance to make a statement for the season and show themselves how much they improved.

Everyone had some sort of expectations for themselves, including myself. I first ran cross country my sophomore year, and at the county meet I was determined to get top 5 and break 19 minutes. These expectations were weighing down on me- it felt like the most important moment of my life that I could not mess up. As an inexperienced and highly anxious young runner, I recall hyperventilating and showing signs of a potential heart attack as we waited on the line to begin the race. They say when the gun goes off, the nerves disappear. This was not the case for me. The presence of hundreds of spectators screaming and cheering indecipherable things, the realization that I was surrounded by the county's best, and the sheer energy present left my heart racing faster than my legs.

Despite that fact that I hit a wall by the last 800 meters, I did indeed reach my goal, collapsing at the end. Though small, my personal accomplishment left me with fond memories of the Gaithersburg course. Junior year however, I could not meet the expectations that I and many other people had for me, leaving me bitter. When senior year finally came around, I decided to make my last high school county a race a good one and would not allow anything to change that. It was the first time I had ever earned a cross country title, a very special feat. Though I didn't feel my race was that good, the excitement of my team and the honor of the title rubbed off on me.

As I watched the awards ceremony each year, there was always a different mixture of emotions. Sophomore year was probably the most exciting for me because I had never been publicly recognized for a race before. Junior year, I would have referred to go hide somewhere. Earning a county title senior year was a great feeling, one I realized many deserving runners have earned in the years before me. I was happy to share those feelings of pride and success with them.

I feel like counties gives many deserving athletes a moment of fame that may be new to them. Each year as the top 10 finishers line up to receive their awards, their faces are glowing with happiness as crowd appreciates their success. It feels very special to be apart of a race with such history and tradition in our running community. I feel like holding the county meet anywhere else will never bring about the same emotions and memories that the Gaithersburg course does.

For those who have raced at Gaithersburg, you are lucky. It goes to show to always appreciate the race at the moment, because you may never get the opportunity again.

By Neal Darmody, Quince Orchard, County Champion 2007

The Gaithersburg Montgomery County XC course is one that could never be forgotten in my mind. There couldn't have been greater competition then racing every school in the county and having fans cheer you on from start to finish. The course to me was perfect, not hilly nor too flat. I was fortunate enough to be the county record holder and win the 2007 county meet at Gaithersburg as well as a QO team victory the both years I ran. It will always be a fond memory of mine.

Let's go back to 2006. It was my first year competing on a high school team. The whole year seems a blur, except counties has always stuck out in my mind. It was the first time my team was leaning on me heavily to pull off a narrow win over rivals Walt Whitman. We did just that and I finished fifth overall, winning the team battle by just 8 points. There was no greater feeling in the world than standing up in front of the stands being in the top 10 of the county standing side by side with other talented runners. But I was hungry for more than just a fifth place finish in 2006. I had my eyes set on winning and making an attempt on Andrew Jesien's 4-year-old course record.

The 2007 county championships was arguably one of the best races of my high school career. I knew what I wanted to accomplish, and thought of the hard work I had put in before the race. It was a special day as I was a senior, as well as my team's top 7. We needed to win and I wanted to make a statement that would last in the county. I took the race out hard and maintained the lead from start to finish. I will never forget sprinting to the line watching the clock as I broke the record by 7 seconds. I felt that I had left myself out on the racecourse as I stood behind the finish line with friends, family, and teammates there to congratulate me. It meant a lot to me that I had won the race, and even more that my team had repeated the win. Looking back now I wish I had the opportunity to race on the course my freshman and sophomore year. As this was the last year for the course to be run, it will be a sad time in moco to see it go.

By Morgane Gay, Whitman, County Champion 2006, 2007

It will be hard to separate my tribute to the county championship from that of my mark of respect for the entire runners' community of Montgomery County itself. Though, come to think of it, the depth of appreciation I have for the community alone may help to explain the sense of privilege I feel to have had the opportunity to compete at the Cross Country Championship for three years.

There is always a similar set of complex emotions that surface when stepping on a starting line for a cross country race. However, the sensations associated with the county championships at Gaithersburg High School are unparalleled in my mind. It is something beyond the anxiety and excitement of standing among your teammates at any given race. It is even beyond the slight intimidation of the familiar runners from teams around you, coupled by your admiration for their talent and preparation for that day. What really made the championship was the steady environment surrounding the race that you came back to year after year. No matter the weather, or which runners were graduated, which were back for more, you could always count on those momentous aspects to be present time after time that made the experience what it was. The pretty scenery and wide open surroundings along the course, the hundreds of parents, fans and coaches spread out in their carefully calculated cheering spots, the mingling amongst acquaintances of different teams and friendly exchanges around the tents...It was the constancy of the time-honored traditions that made it such a valuable experience.

The course was always gratifying whether it was your first experience, your second or third, or especially your last. There was always a smooth nature to the turns, the surroundings, and the variety of surfaces to run on. The weather never changed the integrity of the course's appeal. It was run in rain and shine with the same fulfillment afterward. The loop around the tennis courts at the beginning and end added a comforting edge, knowing if you weren't satisfied with it the first time through, you'd get another chance- or- no matter how much you hated it, it had to be embraced because it was the only path to the end. The familiarity of that stretch was always reassuring- it was both loved and hated since it was always run two times. You could have been the leader in the race, full of adrenaline with the possibility of a win. You could have been in the middle of the pack, in no man's land, or even the last one to be able to say they ran from start to finish in the Montgomery County Championships. We were all feeling the same thing: The struggle of that gradual uphill that needed to be conquered before the finish line could be in sight, the slight stomach flip at the steep downhill leading to the last 400 meters, and then that last stretch, surrounded by fans on both sides as you chased the clock down before too many seconds could roll by. So maybe it sounds like I'm describing any cross country race...But, as almost anyone who has run it can attest to, there is just something special about that course.

I only have sincere gratitude for the influence the championship has had on my high school running experience. Though I will always see the Gaithersburg High School location as a matchless location associated with reflective memories for many, I know that with Montgomery County's omnipresent cooperative spirit, the next venue will take on its own significance for future generations.

By Chris Moen, Walter Johnson, County Champion 2006

Moco is the heart of Maryland distance running. It's the only county in Maryland where you can run a 4:27 mile and not make it to the state meet. I've talked to many of my current teammates about their high school postseason and I've come to realize that not many counties take as much pride in their championship meet as MoCo does. Knowing this makes me feel incredibly privileged to have competed in cross country and track in Montgomery County. The pride that we have in our championship meet is directly caused by the hard work and dedication of our phenomenal coaches as well as our spectacular athletes.

The Gaithersburg course has always been the course to break out on. For me, it was the fastest course of the season, tucked right in between a difficult Van Cortlandt course, and a pretty tough state meet to say the least. But aside from getting a PR, or flying through the first mile sub-5, what makes counties so special for me is the recent history behind it. From my freshman year to present, I have seen my former teammate Jesien win counties, I've been fortunate enough to win my junior year, and from there I have seen the record time get broken twice (along with Tom Martin leading the WJ boys and girls to phenomenal team championships). The bar has been raised higher and higher throughout the life of this course, and to have contributed makes me feel like I am a part of something greater than myself. Gaithersburg has captured an incredible series of Montgomery County Cross Country Championships, and I can only hope that a new chapter opens come 2011.

By Halsey Sinclair, Montgomery Blair, County Champion 2003, 2004, 2005

When I think about Gaithersburg I think of hard work and dedication. Gaithersburg was one of my favorite courses. You could always expect to have a fast time there and it was the perfect course to show off all your hard work over the past summer and season.

What I remember most about the course is the last hill. It was not the most challenging hill but it was very important and it could make or break people. No matter what you did on the rest of the course the last hill was the key. In order to do well you had to master it. This was the point in the race where you could break away if you were running great and fall way behind if you were not having one of the best races of your life.

Coming out of the woods for the last time, after praying you did not slip and fall on the concrete, I always knew what to do. Go. The last hill was the most important part of the course and it was not a place to give up. I always remembered that it was the last half mile and it was time to fly. It all came down to this moment, one last hill climb and then a steep down hill that would take you to the finish. All you had to do was get up that last hill.

I will always remember how many summer nights I spent there learning and mastering the course. It was one place I never got tired of. I can not even count how many times I ran that last hill but it made all the difference. It gave me the confidence to know that I could run fast where and when I needed to.

Gaithersburg was not the most important race of the season but it was still very important. Not because it was a championship meet but because you can always gain confidence there and bring it along with you to the last races of the season. If you ran well at Gaithersburg you know you are ready for anything.

By Ryan Janes, Gaithersburg, County Champion 2005

As a former Montgomery County champion, and Gaithersburg graduate, I have many great memories of the county championship course. I was privileged to compete 3 years at the Montgomery County Championships and all 3 races were completely different. The one thing that seems to ring true in every county championship is that every runner leaves everything they had on the course. There is an adrenaline... a desire that the Gaithersburg course gives runners. There is no greater feeling then 3.1 miles of a fan-lined course and all the runners in the area competing at once. Not only is there a feeling felt among runners, but by the spectators as well. Everyone I have ever talked to about Gaithersburg's course whether a runner or a parent is, "That is one of my all-time favorite courses."

I often think back to my senior year and winning the county championship in 2005. It had been raining for a few days straight and the course was in the worst shape I had ever seen it. It was cold, wet, and the perfect condition for a XC Championship. It was my last year... my last chance to be a county champion. This particular race I ran harder than I had ever run before. I wanted to win so badly; however, I started fading slowly in the last 800 meters going up the hill near the tennis courts. Coming around the tennis courts, I was tripped up. I slipped and fell and I thought my dream to be a champion was over. As I got back up it was the fans that kept me going, egging me on to make one last effort to win. I will never forget winning at the last second, kicking in with everything that I had left. It is truly the one race of my high school career that I have no regrets about. I left everything I had, and that is something no one can ever take away from me.

So even though there will no longer be the Montgomery County Championships at Gaithersburg High, there will always be great memories of what was truly a great course, and there will always be amazing fans and parents that keep the runners pushing until the very end.

By Andrew Jesien, Walter Johnson, County Champion 2003, 2004

As I grow older, one thing I can be sure of is that I will never stop reminiscing the "glory days," the days of pep rallies and cafeterias; spaghetti dinners and starting lines. I had coaches with a tireless determination to inspire, teammates I will never forget, and most importantly, true-love. Yes, during this era of bliss, the Gaithersburg cross country course was my high school sweetheart, and she was quite a catch. She was confident and sexy and she understood me the way that no one else could. She made me dinner and held me close. She actually liked the Terminator movies, and wasn't just pretending. And when I gazed into her eyes, everything else just disappeared, because I was in love.

Hereford was that ugly chick that no one liked and cheated on me with two other guys.

By Eric Pauley, Gaithersburg High School, County Champion 2001

In the fall of 2001, Fanuel Chageza was clearly the class of Montgomery County cross-country runners. My teammate Maksudul Ali and I knew that the only shot we had at beating Fanuel was to use our knowledge of the course in our favor. So in the weeks preceding the race, the two of us hatched a plan.

At 900 meters, the field would make that turn on to the path leading out to Boher Park. The path is pretty narrow, the visibility isn't great, and at this point in the race there would still be a big pack. It's the perfect place to make a move. We knew that IF we were at the front of the pack, made a move at that turn, and could keep it up until we emerged where the course opens up, we could put valuable seconds on Fanuel.

This is exactly how the race went. Fanuel spent the next mile running us down, and by the time he did, we were fresh again. I was able to sit on his hip until we hit the last hill, that gradual rise that climbs from the baseball diamond up to the tennis courts.

I had run that hill a million times. The preceding week we had done a workout where we started at the base of the hill and finished the course...eight times. When my legs hit that incline, I knew exactly how much energy it would take to get up the hill and finish the race. And I knew how it would feel every step of the way.

For me, that race represents one of the few times in my strange and awkward adolescent years when everything seemed perfect. The course is not only the setting of that one particular memory, but it's also the setting of a million others - from my first day at cross country practice as a freshman, to my final track practice as a senior. So just as I will always remember the inside of my first car and the basement where I drank my first beer, I will always remember the Gaithersburg High School cross-country course.


Monday, November 01, 2010
07:51:03 PM
lol for Jesien's blurb, great analogy.

Monday, November 01, 2010
08:29:32 PM
in an all-star lineup, Jesien steals the show again

Corinne Gay
Monday, November 01, 2010
09:05:07 PM
Great heartfelt article by Chris Moen. Sincere and well written signs of a true champion.

Monday, November 01, 2010
11:42:30 PM
wow, what an article

Tuesday, November 02, 2010
06:18:50 PM
I lol'ed at Hereford

Sunday, July 31, 2011
07:45:04 PM
Well now THIS is awkward...

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