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Pictured are Country School cross country runners Kayla Uzwiak, an 8th-grader from Killingworth; Ryan Wei, an 8th-grader from East Lyme; and Conor Selfor, and 8th-grade student from Old Saybrook. (Photo courtesy of The Country School )
Christopher Yuh from Madison, Gabriel Goodman from Old Lyme, and Liam Boone of Clinton are 4th-grader who run cross country for The Country School in Madison. (Photo courtesy of The Country School )
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While local public high school cross country teams were recently building toward their championship races, the cross country squads from The Country School in Madison were compiling a season record of 33 wins and only one loss for the girls’ team, plus 35 wins and just four losses for the boys. This is the best record for cross country at the preschool-to-8th-grade Madison independent school since it began offering the sport 20 years ago.
In years past, dozens of Country School athletes have qualified for Regional Junior Olympics Championships, with several going on to nationals. This includes Robbie Cozean of Madison, now a sophomore at Xavier High School, who earned All-American Team status three times and finished second in the United States.
The Country School serves 214 students between the ages of 3 and 14 and, with only eight boys and seven girls running cross country, its middle school teams are typically the smallest teams competing in its races. Head of School John Fixx attributes the success of the school’s athletes to many factors, such as dedication. The team holds optional practices two or more times a week during the offseason, including the summer, while practicing five or six days a week during the fall cross country season. Inevitably, the entire team shows up, with younger running enthusiasts and even some parents opting to join in.
At The Country School, running is regarded as an activity that is fun, inclusive, and open to all ages. The program begins as early as kindergarten, when interested runners join a group known as the Flying Owlets, which is a nod to the school’s mascot, an owl. More than 35 students participate in Flying Owlets with practices taking place a few times a week. They also have opportunities to compete in road races, the Junior Olympics, and other venues. As older students and younger students train alongside each other, more seasoned runners are able to model teamwork and persistence for younger runners.
With a history of strong cross country and excellent academics, the school has the advantage of attracting strong students who are also strong runners. This year, Margaux and Conor Selfors joined the school by entering 7th and 8th grade, respectively. The siblings, who are from Old Saybrook, have placed at or near the top in multiple races this fall, adding depth and leadership to the team.
Ryan Wei, an 8th-grade co-captain from East Lyme and a top place finisher in several races this year, has attended The Country School for several years. Cozean, the most successful runner in school history, began in pre-K. In addition to his success at The Country School and the Junior Olympics Nationals, Cozean was named the All-Hartford Courant Cross Country Runner of the Year as a freshman at Xavier.
In addition to Cozean, several other Country School runners have gone on to compete at the high school level, making their mark at places like Choate Rosemary Hall, Pomfret, Westminster, Guilford, Hand, Hamden Hall, St. Paul’s, Cheshire Academy, and Avon-Old Farms.
Training so many runners and working with such a wide age span of athletes requires many coaches, and The Country School is fortunate to have a team of experienced runners and educators leading the effort. In addition to Fixx, the team benefits from people like Laura Morrison. A recent graduate of SUNY Fredonia who now runs for Southern Connecticut State University—where she is attending graduate school—Morrison oversees The Country School’s after-school program. Spanish teacher Blair Balchunas, a frequent road racer and half-marathoner, is another inspiring member of the coaching staff. Beth Coyne, the Country School’s Dean of Student Life and secondary school counselor, provides organizational genius and has a great rapport with runners of all ages.
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