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History & Philosophy



Southwest High School Cross Country Team

At Southwest, one can be a “full” member of the team, and even earn a letter, without ever racing in a meet.  Non-competitive or fitness runners are valued as highly as those who compete for Conference, Regional and State titles. As a result, Southwest’s cross-country team alumni are now competing at NCAA Division I schools (including Stanford, Georgetown, and Minnesota), Division III schools (including Rensselaer, Beloit, Hamline, St. Johns, St. Olaf, Macalester, Carleton, Grinnell, Knox, Luther, and Tufts), as well as running for fitness in colleges, on trails and paths around the world. Our girls team also had the highest GPA of the fall sports teams at SW in 2015.

Southwest High School has a rich cross-country tradition.  In fact, Southwest has won more  State High School Cross-Country Boys Team championships than any other Minnesota school (18), including winning 9 times in 12 years from 1962 to 1973.  In those years, Southwest’s program was based on high mileage training, with runners logging up to 1000 miles in the summer.  Times changed, coaches changed, and Southwest changed.  In the late nineties, after the program had declined substantially both in its competitiveness and the level of participation, Zhao (not “Ben,” “Mr. Zhao” or “Coach Zhao” just “Zhao”) became Southwest’s cross-country coach.  He brought with him his love of running, life experiences, extraordinary commitment, and holistic coaching philosophy. 




Winning is important, but not the most important goal.  It will always be a by-product of the foundation built by combining the individual/personal growth of each athlete with the development of team unity.  Each individual must learn to balance building strength with strengthening weaknesses.  All team members must work on building relationships and bonds with others—everyone from faster to slower, older to younger, male to female.


Maturity shows in the way students eat, sleep, study, and make friends.  The basic building blocks of academic, social, and emotional growth must be in place before young runners are ready to race hard and fast.  Racing for fun should come before racing for time.  High school running programs should provide the foundation for lifetime goals of fitness, love of running, and a balanced lifestyle. 


While these issues are important for all runners, they are especially important for girls and women.  Sleep, eating habits, and body image are significant obstacles for women in our culture today.  Putting girls and women on the same time line as boys, and asking them to race hard while they are adapting to a new body, is not the best thing for them.  It takes between two and four years for this adjustment to occur.  Raising expectations when girls are not ready feeds the egos of those who coach, but exacts a terrible price on the female athletes.  The high school running program for girls and women should emphasize long-term goals and prepare young women to race well in college and beyond.


As parents, try to match, side by side, your effort and your involvement with your son/daughter.  Don't get ahead of them and don't force or lead them.  It’s their team.  Match your involvement and commitment to theirs.