By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
For the duration of his tenure as the Perry cross country coach, Bill Sarvis has preached about the meaning of family to the Pirates. His runners have wholeheartedly embraced his approach.
“We talk all the time about there being a bigger picture,” Sarvis said. “We talk about running bringing them together and the relationships it fosters. It’s a family feeling. The sport lends itself to the kids getting closer. They spend more time with each other than they do their families.
“They call each other brothers. To hear them talk like that means everything to me. There’s so much more to this than just running. It’s life.”
The Pirates’ family will take to the National Trail Raceway in Hebron for the Division II state boys cross country meet at 11:45 a.m. today.
It’s that foundation, laid in the early years of Sarvis’ tenure, that has led the Pirates to the state meet.
“That foundation has been everything,” Sarvis said. “It’s no different than building a home. If you build the foundation right, you will build a strong structure that will stand for a long time.
“(The boys) do get it. We stress becoming friends first and the rest will take care of itself. If you’re there every day with your friends, you’ll give more of yourself for them and for you. I think they’re living it.”
After making the trip to Hebron a year ago, the Pirates making the trip a second consecutive time is a first in program history. Two of the current runners — Chris Jordan and Alex Guthrie — had brothers on the first Perry boys team to qualify for the state meet. They saw the family-first atmosphere and have carried on the tradition set in place by that group in 2008.
“All the boys know about it,” Sarvis said. “They all talk about it. They come into my room and room is filled with pictures from track and cross country. They see their brothers in those pictures.
“They talk about doing something their brothers — Tom Jordan and Brad Guthrie — never did and go in back-to-back years. They talked about it before the race in Boardman (for regionals) and then again after the race.”
The current members of the team include Jordan, Guthrie, Aaran Gessic, Dustin Gilbert, Devin Pritschau, Erik Pritschau and Eric Grubaugh.
The family-like Pirates have carried their off-course habits over to their races. They have been crossing the finish line in packs.
“Actually, that was broken up a little bit at regionals,” Sarvis said. “For the last month, that’s been absolutely true. We got (the time from our first runner to our fifth) down to about 35 seconds. That was broken up at the regional partly because the front three amped it up a little bit.
“I’m hoping to get that four, five, six and seven group up a little tighter. It’s something I will talk with them about. I will let them know they are just as important as the No. 1, if not more so.”
The Pirates themselves seem to have a pretty deep understanding of that fact already.
“They were yelling to each other (on the course) at districts and again, a little, at regionals,” Sarvis said. “They were saying, ‘You need to get up here.’
“Dustin said that. Devin was coming into that last turn and he said his legs were dead. He was ready to walk. He heard that and he just couldn’t. He said it would have been easy to walk, but he couldn’t do that to his teammates.”
Which is the exact driving force that put Perry in the position it is in to begin with.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.
Click here to subscribe to The Star Beacon print edition.
Click here to subscribe to The Star Beacon replica edition.