In the Fall, you are most likely to find Texas communities gathering on Friday evenings for high school football games. Saturdays, are usually reserved for their favorite college football teams and Sundays are for church services and the NFL.
However, on Saturday mornings, in the town of Luling, Texas, you will no doubt find the community on the fastest road out of town and heading to the next cross country meet on the schedule to support their high school cross country teams. They are infamously known as the Long Green Line and they are an entourage, caravan, and a cheering section, but most of all they are a lifeline of support and the community.
And their Luling boys cross country is more than just a team. They are what American sports lovers affectionately call teams that dominate over a period of time....Dynasty. The Luling dynasty began a long time ago when they jump started a championship streak back in 2010, that is still alive and strong today.
Longtime coach Mike Barnett ignited a program that has gone on to win seven straight UIL cross country titles. In that time, Luling has won titles in Class 2A and has now stretched into 3A.
In a community that faces some socioeconomic issues that most cross country championship programs do not face, Luling continues to overcome obstacles that stand in their way. The fact that the streak started when the program was in 2A, shows that the population of the school and the town don't bring in as many runners to the program each year that the larger schools do. Therefore, Barnett had to make the runners and the only way to do that was through hard work.
Barnett created a culture and atmosphere of hard work and dreams by making aerobic beasts. The program puts in 60-70 miles a week with some kids reaching up to 90 miles a week at times. In 1999, Luling won it's first state title. Running up and down the hills of Luling in the Texas heat enabled the dynasty to begin almost ten years after the first title and who knows when it'll end.
Photo by Alex Aldaco
Barnett who is an alum of Luling saw the streak begin back in 2010, when his own son Michael Barnett helped initiate the first of the seven championship streak. Since then, several classes of Luling cross country athletes have graduated winning a state title with some of them winning a title in each of their high school years. They are all a part of Texas history as they tied the state record of six consecutive straight championships and broke it in 2016 when they extended the record to seven consecutive titles.
Coaching staff changes sometimes bring in new theories and focuses in training and can require a transition period for the athletes to get used to the feel of things. Luling is currently at the top of the 3A team rankings, so things look to be going well with the dynasty. Upperclassman leadership with senior Buster Roberts, junior Edwin Zamudio, and junior Johnny Castanon is a luxury for the new staff. Roberts is the top returning 3A runner from last year and he currently sits a top the 3A rankings.
Luling was a program that once enjoyed the constant of rituals and practices with familiarity of the former staff. Under the new regime, the program has now spent the season getting accustomed to change and variation of a new staff and new practices. Hand brings in a style that may be influenced by his Georgetown roots and UTSA, where he ran in college and that can be all but a bad thing.
With district meets beginning this week, it is officially the time to get into title defense mode. This point of the season is what Luling is all to familiar with. However, this year it will have Hand leading the charge. Will the team be able to react in the same manner as it did with Barnett or possibly better? The measuring stick will be that 8th consecutive championship and the extension of their dynasty.