Hampden Academy’s Charlie Collins makes his way to the finish line, winning the individual title at the Class A cross country championships on Oct. 29 in Cumberland. Carl D. Walsh/ Staff Photographer

Danielle Johnson, Hampden Academy’s cross country coach, said that many aspects factored in to her program’s consecutive Class A titles, the first in school history for the boys.

Scoring runners contributed. Non-scoring runners contributed. Coaches contributed. The support of parents was crucial.

And yet, if not for the transformation of an occasionally sulky sophomore into a mature upperclassman, Johnson isn’t sure the Broncos would have come out on top in either of the past two state meets.

“I credit our championships to his mindset,” Johnson said of senior Charlie Collins. “Something happened between sophomore and junior year that ignited this different passion in him in the best way possible. He focused on the team doing well instead of him individually.”

After toiling in the shadow of since-graduated teammate Abbott Valentine last fall, Collins emerged this season as the state’s best schoolboy runner.

In early October he won the Festival of Champions in Belfast by 11 seconds over Portland junior Nathan Blades – and a field of more than 600 runners – in a time of 15 minutes, 38.91 seconds. In late October, Collins added Northern Maine and Class A state titles, at Belfast and at Twin Brook in Cumberland, respectively.


In his first three years at Hampden, Collins never won a race. In his senior season, he won every race he ran in the state.

He is our choice as Varsity Maine Runner of the Year for boys’ cross country.

So what happened between his sophomore and junior seasons? Collins said he went into high school without any significant training and joined a cross country team that wasn’t particularly close. He trained the following summer, but that work didn’t translate into results. In fact, Johnson said, Collins couldn’t even beat his best time from the previous fall.

“I was pretty miserable to be around,” he said. “I was not having a great time.”

After a solid summer of training, Collins entered his junior fall with a fresh outlook. His younger brother, Tim, was a freshman, and Collins felt he ought to set an example.

“I decided I was really going to be team-oriented,” he said. “I was going to focus a lot on the team and a lot less on myself. And it worked. I was much happier. It made training a lot easier, it made racing a lot easier and the team was much closer.”


Distance running may seem like a solitary pursuit, but Collins said success as a team requires chemistry and mutual reliance. In basketball, he argues, a star player can carry a team. In cross country, a top runner’s placement is only one of five that contribute to the overall score.

“You have to work together in practice and during races,” he said. “You have to strategize. You have to believe in each other.”

Unlike last fall, when they placed fifth at the early season Festival of Champions, the Broncos triumphed in Belfast over a field of 59 teams, some from outside of Maine.

“We don’t like to have our best race early in the season and we weren’t expecting to win,” Collins said. “So winning Festival as a team was a big surprise and probably the most fun this season.”

Hampden put seven runners across the finish line before any other team’s fourth runner at regionals. At the state meet, the Broncos had six finish before runner-up Portland could bring home its third runner. Hampden won both meets handily.

Less enjoyable was the New England championship meet in Rhode Island. Illness accompanied by high fever swept through the team a few days before the event. Hampden managed to remain the top team from Maine, but finished in the bottom half of 30 schools. Individually, Collins was 50th, and third among Maine runners.

“We were just trying to hold it together,” he said. “We wanted to compete for the win and so did I, but given the circumstances, it kind of fell apart. It’s a good thing it happened at New Englands and not states, because we care a lot more about winning a state championship.”

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