NEW GLOUCESTER – A newspaper photographer arrived Thursday at Merriconeag Waldorf High School, looking for the cross country team. But they weren’t out front as usual.

It wasn’t difficult to discover practice had been canceled. Simply ask the students.

Chances are good they are on the team.

Merriconeag features only 37 students, but 16 run on the boys’ or girls’ teams.

And they are competitive.

Last year the Merriconeag boys finished second in the Western Class C meet and fourth in the state.

Merriconeag has a full girls’ team for the first time this year, and will be a contender in the regional meet Saturday at the Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland.

All three classes in Western Maine will race Saturday at Twin Brook, starting at 10 a.m.

The Eastern Maine races also will take place Saturday, at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.

In Class C, other Western teams such as North Yarmouth Academy, Freeport and Waynflete will contend.

But all of those schools have athletic tradition.

Merriconeag graduated its first high school class — all five students — just last spring.

The school sponsors teams in cross country, sailing, Nordic skiing, tennis and ultimate Frisbee.

The Merriconeag Waldorf School began in 1984 in Freeport, where its elementary school is still based. The high school began in 2006 at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.

A cross country program began four years ago, but in 2008 the team needed a new coach and the season had begun. The Dirigo Running Club surveyed its members for interest.

Tom Ryan volunteered. An easy commute, Ryan figured, since he worked about 200 yards away in another building on the Pineland property. He walked over for his first meeting with the team.

“The season had already started,” Ryan said. “I asked them ‘How many of you have run at all yet?’ No hands went up.

“I went ‘Oh man.’ It was a fitness program. That’s all it was.”

Ryan, 55, is all for fitness. But he’s also a competitor. He holds four national masters titles in his age group.

In the summer of 2009, Ryan began a summer program, and his runners soon learned the commitment involved.

“I began in seventh grade, but I really didn’t train until the summer before the ninth grade,” said sophomore Jack Pierce, who has emerged as Merriconeag’s No. 1 runner, and is expected to be in the lead pack Saturday.

Zoe Chace-Donahue, the girls’ top runner, along with Teagan Wu, also ran in seventh grade. “We really didn’t do much intense stuff,” Chace-Donahue said. “I sensed (high school) was going to be different when we got an e-mail from the coach over the summer before ninth grade, saying we need to be running now. We run all the time.”

Chace-Donahue finished 14th in last year’s state meet and Wu placed 11th, but the school didn’t have enough girl runners to compete as a team.

But in such a small school setting, success attracts others. Both the boys’ and girls’ teams have grown. New runners, like Brian Watko, signed up this season.

“I did sailing last year,” Watko said. “Every day I’d be waiting for the sailing van and I’d see these people running. I thought I would try it out. I really enjoy it.”

Pierce, who finished seventh in the state last year, will lead Merriconeag, with senior Phineas Samuelson and junior Tyler O’Brien among the other top runners.

 

THE WESTERN regional will feature two of the better runners in the state competing in Class C — Matthew McClintock of Madison and Chase Brown from Boothbay Harbor.

Abshir Horor of Waynflete will contend.

The girls’ Class C race features the defending state champion, Martha Veroneau of Waynflete.

Class B has the Falmouth boys and Cape Elizabeth girls as heavy favorites.

Silas Eastman of Fryeburg Academy is expected to win the boys’ race.

Class A likewise has two powerhouse teams — the Scarborough boys and Cheverus girls. Nick Morris of the Red Storm will contend for individual honors. Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk is the girls’ favorite, followed by Emily Durgin of Cheverus.

 

THE EASTERN regional has Mt. Ararat competing for titles in both the boys’ and girls’ Class A races. Katie McMahon of Brunswick will be in the girls’ lead pack.

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]