The 2017 cross country season was supposed to be like all the others. Nobody expected the ferocity of what would become Hurricane Harvey.
The Houston Stratford Spartans and Kingwood Mustangs and their respective communities were aware the hurricane was coming but they did not expect it to be as bad as it was. With the Houston area's history with hurricanes, both head coach Tate Symons of Kingwood and Joseph Brillon of Stratford told their runners to be safe but expected to get back to business once everything had passed over.
They did not expect to find several of their runners' houses and, in Kingwood's case, parts of their entire community flooded out by the storm.
"I remember thinking about getting stuff out of our office and saying to myself 'Don't worry it won't be that bad'," Symons said. "Boy was I wrong. Water ended up about five feet in the track/CC office. We used Remind to meet at different houses to help were ever we could. We were not worried about running."
Faced with the storm of the century, what was most surprising about the teams from Stratford and Kingwood was their resilience. They showed their camaraderie in their respective communities by helping those who had lost their homes find places to stay and giving them clothes and shoes to wear.
Both teams used their Remind app to keep in touch with who needed help and where they could support their community. Symons said that many of his runners went to volunteer at the churches for hours on end.
Stratford and Kingwood both showed a willingness to help those in need and an unwillingness to complain about their present situation.
"I remember thinking about getting stuff out of our office and saying to myself 'Don't worry it won't be that bad, Boy was I wrong."Tate Symons - Kingwood boys coach
The two teams thankfully did not lose anybody as a result of Harvey, which claimed over 100 lives. Still, given the damage done to their communities it did take time for them to get back to running. However, once they were able to start running again it was business as usual.
Still, it is that same discontent at not medaling which appears to be fueling both teams for strong runs in 2018.
"They've been really consistent," Brillon said in regards to Stratford's summer training. "Not too high, not too low, just very consistent. There's a lot of great inspirational young athletes, I call them alpha leaders, on that team. I think it's going to be a real interesting season."
There's a lot of great inspirational young athletes, I call them alpha leaders, on that team. I think it's going to be a real interesting season."
Joseph Brillon - Houston Stratford girls coach
Both teams also enter the season as the #2 ranked returning teams in the state. Both Stratford and Kingwood return the majority of their top runners from last year. The Boys Team Power Rankings and the Girls Team Power Rankings describe how experienced and talented both squads are. Part of that could be in result of the challenges both teams have had to overcome. At this point, last year was a totally different story in sport as well as in life for athletes and coaches on each team.
Both Symons and Brillon are not putting heavy expectations on their runners, I.e. telling them they have to win state. But the combination of having a core group of runners motivated by the shortcomings of last year and hardened by their experiences off the course, 2018 could indeed prove to be the interesting season Brillon predicts.