Several years ago, I was passing through a small town called, “Seminole.” I blinked and missed half of it... mostly kidding.
The town of Seminole is a relatively small, battle-hardened town with a mixture of Native talent, blue-collar workers, and a way of life that yields champions. It’s a town of only 6,800+ citizens. The missing ingredient to developing a speedy cross country team was a coach that understood the nature of cross country and the nature of coaching this group of young men to wield state results.
That’s where Coach Bobby Sanford comes in. A young fella with a vision and a graduate of ECU, he had an intuition to work with each runner as individuals and not like a herd of cattle. For those who didn’t know, an Oklahoma high school coach gets a small stipend to coach, and it’s far from striking gold. Thus, there has been a boom in charging copious amounts for “private” coaching. This was not the Coach Sanford way. Every successful athlete and coach must possess the ‘hope’ to win first and foremost. Coach Sanford instills the motivation and provides the pathway to success for his athletes. Perhaps this is why his runners have chosen to invest in his coaching, principles, and even hand over their gaming stations. This was one of the reasons I never charged to coach any high schoolers. I had a coach growing up, Mike Barber of Jenks America Track Club, that never charged any of the runners while being the JATC coach for 20 years.
With Seminole, they didn’t have a men’s cross country team four years ago, and yet they were shooting for a state team title last October. Apparently, they did not get the memo that they were not supposed to be good! To put it in perspective, does anyone remember the Disney movie, “McFarland?” The movie flick about a team becoming a powerhouse to win the cross country team title? Well, it took McFarland SEVEN years to win a team title.... Seminole did it in FOUR. Perhaps Hollywood should reconsider a remake of the movie with Seminole.
I decided to dig a little further into this treasure trove story and reached out to the coach.
The first question that I asked, “Did you foresee that you would win?”
Coach Sanford: “Yes, even though we had a rocky start, we were playing catch up against the clock. We lost two brothers that were in our top 5 who moved out of Oklahoma. We got lucky, and both of the brothers ended up moving back to Seminole by the first day of school. They essentially arrived the first day of classes. We were patient in aiding them back into training. Some of our men needed tough love. On one occasion, I pulled up into Michael’s (one of the xc members) driveway and took his gaming system. It’s a distraction, and we needed everyone to invest.”
Question 2: “What would you say about the leadership of the team?”
Coach Sanford: “Our top man (Richard Bolt) was going to be there from Day 1 to the day of State. Richard led the way for our team. It was a matter of making sure each runner utilized his potential. Richard is a true blue-collar young man with foresight in his ambitions.”
Question 3.: “Were you worried about any other teams in particular?”
Coach Sanford: “We were focused on our ability and our own fitness. We focused more on improving each one of our runners, and if everyone did what they were supposed to, then we knew we could be there (State).”
I was also from a small high school similar to Seminole. I was well acquainted with all of the 4A teams already. With Seminole, there is a sense of originality with the team: most do not come from wealth, and there are no coaches with a professional running background, but what does Seminole have? They have perseverance. Working hard is second nature. Seminole is a cross country team that invested when a coach of character made it his mission to help these men not just become great runners, but as leaders. Coach Sanford used the sport as a catalyst to motivate the community, as a stepping stone to improve the runners' educations. Coach Sanford did not receive a hefty salary nor charge them for private coaching outside of school, but he did EXPECT THEM TO BE THERE physically, mentally, and emotionally.
As October 20th rolled around, all 7 Seminole men lined the course:
The team victoriously collected their first men’s cross country team title and set a precedent for future Seminole speedsters to follow suit.