Keeping middle school students active during midwinter can be a challenge. That’s especially true this season, with many modified sports and after-school programs canceled due to the pandemic.
In search of a solution, a group of parents came up with an idea that has been a surprising success: “Running Buddies.” The program matches up high school runners with would-be runners at Farragut Middle School. The older buddies teach the younger ones about the pleasures of runners, and new friendships are formed in the process.
“Right now, we have about 25 pairs of middle school kids and high school volunteer running buddies,” Yellow Jackets Booster Club president Laura Light told the Enterprise on Feb. 2. Light said the program was born after some parents in the booster club were talking about pandemic-era winter activities for kids.
“Many of the activities and events that we normally do weren’t possible, due to Covid-19,” she said. “So we were trying to come up with other safe, socially distanced ways for kids to have fun, make some social connections, and be active.”
“When Laura Light first broached the idea of Running Buddies to me, I thought it was a great idea,” Hastings track coach Molly Guilfoyle said on Feb. 1. “But I completely underestimated its popularity among both the middle schoolers and the high school mentors alike. It can sometimes be hard to convince younger kids of the beauty and enjoyment that can be found in running. This program has done just that and more.”
Guilfoyle said meeting with a high school student for a weekly run has become a great opportunity for middle school students to connect with someone older who they might not make friends with otherwise. “Our high schoolers have done an incredible job of making it fun and sharing their love of running,” she added.
Light said most of the high school “buddies” were varsity athletes who wouldn’t typically have a lot of free time in the winter, but were available this year because winter sports started later than usual. “They are now able to volunteer and mentor kids around running — something they love to do anyway.”
Hastings High School junior Maya McDermott has taken on the job of matchmaker. “We try to put together girls with girls and boys with boys, but we do have a few girl-boy pairings,” she said. “Often we will ask [Guilfoyle] to reach out to runners on the team.” McDermott has heard from some of the high school runners that their younger counterparts are impressive athletes.
“I wanted to help a young kid with their passion for running,” sophomore Owen Druehl, a competitive runner since seventh grade, said on Feb. 2. “Looking back, with what I know now, I myself could have done some things differently, so I want to help.”
McDermott paired Druehl with Lily Ramsey, a seventh-grader. “Normally we'll run a few miles on the Aqueduct,” he said. “We like doing intervals, like run a section and walk a section.”
Sophomore Gus Renzin has also been running for three years. He was assigned to sixth-grader Max Hesquijarosa, and it turned out they already knew each other. “I was actually one of his counselors at this tennis camp [in Hastings] down by the river,” Renzin said. “He’s an awesome athlete. He plays football, baseball, and basketball.”
Renzin tries to make their weekly running sessions fun and motivating. “We meet at the track at Reynolds, and depending on the workout I’ve planned for the day, we might go on the Aqueduct or stay on the track,” he said. “Especially for somebody who’s in sixth grade like my running buddy, running is not so much fun at first glance... and what sixth-grader is going to want to run for an hour straight? So I break it down into different parts so it stays interesting.”
A typical session for the duo might start with a short warm-up, one or two laps, followed by “dynamic warm-ups,” such as doing stretches while running. They might transition to walk/run/walk intervals, then incorporate some speed work, such as sprints, followed by slow walking. “We’ve also done some longer distance stuff,” Renzin said.
When he was in middle school, Renzin considered going out for football, but his parents wouldn’t consent, so he chose track. “I thought I’d give it a try,” he recalled. “And then I decided I love it. It’s a really hard sport and I think we have one of the best coaches.”
Renzin said that middle school track, which has started up again, is a great way for Farragut students to become part of the HHS athletic culture.
“I was proud to wear the Hastings athletic jersey all through middle school,” he said. “I was really proud of it. I would definitely recommend this to other middle school students. We have some really great runners and awesome people on the team that make it really fun.”
For more information or to register for the Running Buddies program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.