Throughout every sports season since his freshman year at North Branford High School, Michael Madoule was led by his coach and mentor, Floyd Parness. During the 2017 spring track season, the remainder of Michael’s athletic career was forever altered when Parness passed away unexpectedly at age 66.
For Michael, finishing his junior year with the outdoor track team and heading into his senior cross country season proved an emotional and trying time. However, Michael felt Parness alongside him and remembered the lessons he had learned from his coach. After missing out on medaling at states in the 4x400 relay as a sophomore, Michael and his teammates capped their junior season by winning a medal at the state meet.
“It meant a lot to all of us, because even though Floyd wasn’t there to see it, we still felt it was just for him,” Michael says. “Initially, it was extremely hard, and it’s still hard now, because losing him was such a drastic change. I spent nine seasons a year with him over span of three years, so coming back into the season without him, I was disheartened and unmotivated.”
To cope with this, Michael got together with other athletes who Parness had coached in the Thunderbirds’ cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track programs. After talking, Michael says they realized that Parness “wouldn’t want us to give up or lose motivation and not to forget where we came from, where we started, and how we became the athletes we are.”
Entering his senior year as a captain, Michael knew he needed to step into a bigger leadership role in order for North Branford’s cross country teams to succeed. During the summer, Michael collected names and email addresses, recruited new runners to the program, and ran conditioning and captains’ practices.
“Floyd was an upfront guy and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, so I learned that I can’t be a solid leader if I’m staying quiet in the background,” Michael says. “Running really gave me confidence. I used to be an incredibly shy kid, but once my role models moved up and went to college, I realized I had to take on more of a leadership position for the kids below me.”
In addition to being Michael’s coach, Parness was also Michael’s mentor for his senior Capstone Project. Michael had been working with Parness on planning the 5K held at the 2017 North Branford Potato and Corn Festival.
“After he passed away, I was unsure if I’d continue, because I didn’t know where to turn,” says Michael. “I realized it wouldn’t be fair to just drop his legacy, so I got in contact with [Parness’s daughter] Jen [Fleming]. The superintendent, Mr. [Scott] Schoonmaker, Principal [Todd] Stoeffler, and Vice Principal [Gregory] Gwudz were fully supportive with whatever I needed for my project, too. My family has also always been very supportive.”
Michael worked closely with Fleming to rename the race, Floyd’s 5K. Michael marketed the race, secured runners and sponsors, and even created this year’s T-shirt design—a cartoon potato and corn peeking out of a sketch of Parness’s iconic beard.
“She’s so much like Floyd, and Floyd and I worked well together, so we worked well together, and we seemed to have an equal vision on what we wanted to see in the race, because we both knew his standards so well,” says Michael of Fleming. “She reminded me a lot of Floyd, so to have done this with anybody else would’ve felt extremely strange.”
Fleming feels equally grateful for Michael’s help. She remembers her dad speaking highly of Michael and his leadership skills.
“After working with Mike on Floyd’s 5K, I saw exactly what my dad saw in him: a leader,” says Fleming. “Mike was willing to do anything to help us out, from cleaning up and setting up the course to organizing a kids’ race at the park and rec. Mike is a humble and hard-working kid. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him, and it gives me such comfort knowing that he is leading the cross country team this year. He is an exceptional role model for those kids, and I know he will carry on my dad’s legacy.”
Since it was his Capstone Project, Michael couldn’t actually run in this year’s race as he had in the past. However, he still enjoyed being on the course to encourage the runners and found it “very satisfying seeing people work hard toward a finish and encouraging like so many people have done for me in the past.”
Floyd’s 5K drew nearly 300 runners, a number that Michael thinks shows how many people were influenced by Parness, including friends, family, coaches and teams from other schools, and, of course, the athletes on Parness’s teams.
“It exceeded what I thought was going to happen and was a step toward recovering in coping with the loss of Floyd,” Michael says. “To know I did something to help something that meant a lot to him meant a lot to me.”
Michael’s involvement in cross country has also led to him considering a career in international business, pairing his natural affinity for learning languages with the leadership skills he’s learned throughout his sports career. Michael has applied to several schools in Boston, as well as a few in Connecticut. Michael has filled out a few recruitment forms for college cross country teams, but even if he doesn’t continue running as a varsity sport, Michael plans to stay involved through club or intramurals.
Michael has been running since the 6th grade, taking after his older sister. In addition to the 4x400 relay, Michael runs the 400 with North Branford’s outdoor track team and competes in the 600 and 4x800 for the indoor team.
“I didn’t have great hand-eye coordination, so other sports didn’t work out,” says Michael, who also plays the piano and is part of North Branford’s top-rated after-school wind ensemble, the jazz ensemble, and the pep band. “With cross country, I liked how it was both an individual sport, and your time is personalized to you, but how you’re also doing with other people, giving it that family aspect.”
As his senior season with new Head Coach Barry Doohan gets underway, Michael and his fellow members in the North Branford cross country program are not only working hard on the course; they’re also working hard to continue on the legacy that Floyd Parness built.
“I felt a big responsibility to continue the traditions our coach had set, like the importance of having that family bond,” Michael says. “The biggest goal this season, even more important than improving our times, is building that bond since it was unsure at the beginning of the season without a coach and figuring out how we’d build that family bond without the glue that was Floyd Parness.”