After years of having a successful Cross Country program at Malden High School, the athletic department, along with the assistance of Malden Recreation, created an extended program at the Malden middle schools, with students from sixth to eighth grade being eligible to sign up to join. The program, similar to the high school’s, is free of charge to students, a contrast to the rest of the sports clubs made available for middle schoolers.
Cross Country was chosen is because there is already a middle school Cross Country league in the Northeast Conference. Athletic director Charlie Conferey says that if the athletic department wanted to start, for example, a “middle school soccer team,” it would not go over well, because of the “huge Malden Youth program” that “already play[s] other cities and towns within their league.” There are no competitive leagues other than Cross Country for middle schoolers, which made it easier to create the program in the Malden Middle Schools.
However, there are plans for more athletic programs to be created in the middle schools. “The more, the better--that is our belief at the high school and the athletic department,” Conefrey says. The next two programs that will possibly be created is a middle school football team, expected in the fall of 2019, and a middle school baseball team as well.
While the high school Cross Country members have to complete a 5k run in their meets, the length for the middle school is condensed, being just 1.7k for them. Practices are also changed from everyday to only twice a week, with a meet every week. The cutbacks on difficulty was made by taking to account the “lack of physical maturity” in middle schoolers compared to high school students, but is designed to give the middle schoolers “a good idea of what happens.”
The coach for the team is Michael Nicholson, who is also the new health teacher at the Ferryway School, and the assistant coach of Malden High’s Gymnastics team. Conefrey praises Nicholson, saying how he was been “absolutely fantastic,” adding how it was not easy to find someone “that is willing” to be the coach, but Nicholson has been “stellar” at his job so far.
The purpose of the creation of the program is to get students who are involved in physical activity interested in the sports programs at Malden High, according to Conefrey. When the time comes for eighth graders to make their decision to where they would like to attend high school, Malden High School will “hopefully” be both the parents and the students’ “number one choice.” He states that the more active and involved the athletic department is in the five middle schools, Forestdale, Salemwood, Ferryway, Linden S.T.E.A.M academy, and Beebe, “the more chance they have to “meet the kids, build rapport, and let them know what we offer.” He states that they are a lot of choices other than Malden High for male and female students now, such as Mystic Valley or Malden Catholic, who just created a new wing for female students, making it more “competitive.” In order for the middle school programs to work, it is all about “consistency,” meaning “consistent interaction and communication” with “the principals, vice principals, P.E and health teachers,” and collaboration with Malden Recreation.
Junior Omar Asousy, current member of Malden High’s Cross Country team, says that adjusting to Cross Country during his freshman year was “pretty difficult.” He says that before high school, he would go home or “hang out with friends” after school, but joining a sports team made it difficult for him to manage his time. Adjusting to the sport itself was “equally challenging” due to “no prior experience when it came to running,” making it “extremely tiring” for Asousy when he first started. Asousy believes that “had there been a Cross Country middle school program when [he] was in middle school, [he] would have been able to adjust better to the sport and could've been a much better runner in [his] first season,” adding that he would not have to “dive right into high school running” with no experience and that he could have “played a much bigger role on the team.”