Colby (OnFocus) – With low-risk fall sports now underway in high schools across Wisconsin, coaches and athletes are back at it, practicing for their first chances at competition. The fact that fall sports are underway is a ray of hope for everyone, and optimism is in the air.
When it comes to coaches that are optimistic, Colby teacher and Colby/Abbotsford Cross Country coach Bryon Graun is at the top of the list. The coach is not only optimistic about sports this season, he sees it as vital for students to develop as people.
“Sports I think are huge. The extra stuff, competing, practicing, bonding with teammates, that all gives kids a sense of purpose. For some kids, school isn’t their thing,” Graun said.
With over twenty years in teaching and coaching, Graun has seen firsthand how high school sports impact lives not just in high school, but beyond.
“We’ve had a number of valedictorians and salutatorians on our cross country teams. They are obviously successful in high school, involved. When some go off to college, many times they don’t have athletics any more, and they miss it,” Graun explained.
Graun has a passion for cross country, serving as the President of the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association. Previously, he was the rankings administrator for the association, a membership consisting of 330 coaches, mostly at the high school level.
“My position as president with the WCCCA is a two year term, and we promote cross country throughout the state,” Graun explained. “We hold a clinic every January, which includes education and networking opportunities. We have speakers from the state and nation come to our clinic, and being a member is a very worthwhile opportunity for cross country coaches.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed back the start of high school sports in Wisconsin, but for cross country, deemed a low risk sport, teams could begin practice August 17. Colby/Abbotsford kicked off their season August 18, and Graun is confident cross country will be able to have a complete season while observing safety guidelines.
“Our association talks regularly, and with seven district representatives serving the state, our board has met multiple times to talk. We want to make cross country happen. It’s an outdoor sport, and pretty easy to distance athletes from one another,” Graun explained.
Graun shared that discussions took place this summer about how to make cross country safe, and identified several steps schools are taking.
“We’ve had discussion about making cross country meets smaller, trying not to hold larger meets, where racers bunch up,” Graun said. “In the Cloverbelt, we’re actually looking at trying to keep races at 50 or less runners. We’re also encouraging the use of Gator masks – ease of pulling up and pulling down, once runners are out a bunch or pack.
Cross country is one of the fall sports, along with tennis and golf that are considered low risk, and the sport lends itself to social distancing and safety precautions. Practice itself doesn’t look like it will change much for the sport.
“I don’t think our training and practices will be all that much different. Our typical kids that run in the summer, they already have been. We have a smaller team, and we’re already able to naturally run in small groups,” Graun explained. “When we do drills and exercises, we’ll just stay spread out. Being outdoors and in a small group, we’re going to be able to practice like we have in the past.”
Graun teaches 8th grade social studies and math at Colby, and the impact he has as a teacher extends far beyond the sport. Hailey Voelker, a four year letter-winner in cross country and a 2019 Colby graduate, explained Graun teaches more than just about running.
“He has definitely taught me about what it’s like to be a member of the cross country team, off the field. Coach has always preached or told us about how you should act and how respectful you should be to other people,” Voelker shared. “Even when you aren’t wearing a shirt with ‘Colby Cross Country’ on it, he always made it clear we still represented our team and school and we needed to send a good image.”
Neither the WIAA or WCCCA has determined what this year’s postseason will look like, but that isn’t something really on the radar right now, Graun said.
“We are trying to provide our kids an opportunity to run in some way. Any plans for the postseason is just not something anyone can decide. We are taking one week at a time.”
Graun has high hopes for his team this year, building on recent team success.
“We have won the conference the last two years, going for three in a row. We are focusing on the opportunity to get better,” Graun shared. “Chase Oehmichen has a good chance to get to state. He’s worked hard for four years.”
Graun shared how much sports in general are needed for not just kids, but for the entire community.
“Kids have been cramped up at home. The social part of sports is so important. Sports are a way to fit in, be with friends, and they bring communities together,” Graun explained. “I go to a lot of football games, and the stands are full. It’s a big community thing, and parents get together. Parents want to socialize and support the community.”
Voelker explained that sports taught her things school could not.
“Sports taught me dedication and what it means to be a true athlete,” Voelker shared.
She went on to explain that it goes beyond the sport, but a coach who cares is invaluable.
“Coach Graun has been a huge part in my life. he has been a person to talk to when i need it. He also was a big part in helping me decide where i wanted to continue my college and athletic career,” Voelker noted. “He helped me walk in my faith and helped me become a better person over all.”
When asked why he coaches, Graun was quick to sum up why he loves coaching.
“I coach because I want to impact kids’ lives. As a man of God, I am called to mentor kids, give them value, so they can be a value to society in the future.”
Sounds like Coach Graun has it figured out, a person worth knowing in central Wisconsin.
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