New Bonny Eagle girls’ cross country coach Ryan Dyer explains the course at Falmouth Community Park last week to Marina Violette and Addy Thibodeau, right. The Scots have won eight of the past 10 Class A state championships and are favored to repeat this fall. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

STANDISH — At first Addy Thibodeau thought her coach was joking. Instead of a twinkle, however, there were tears in his eyes.

Mike Burleson, who had guided Bonny Eagle to Class A state titles throughout her high school career, was leaving the Scots to coach at St. Joseph’s College, also in Standish.

“We were all kind of shocked,” said Thibodeau, a senior, about the meeting in early August, just prior to preseason practices. “Some of us started crying a little bit.”

To recover, to process the news, Thibodeau and her teammates did what comes naturally. They went on a run.

Eventually, the realization seeped into their consciousness. For more than a decade now, the coaches have changed, the athletes have changed, but the tradition of excellence for the Bonny Eagle girls’ cross country program had continued.

The Scots have won eight of the past 10 Class A state championships under three different head coaches. Chris Strout guided Bonny Eagle to the state title in 2012 and 2013, Andrea Johnson in 2015 and 2016 and Burleson in 2018 through 2022. Championship meets were canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.


New head coach Ryan Dyer, who assisted Burleson throughout his tenure and shared head coaching duties for track and field, is aiming for a fifth consecutive title.

“Our program hasn’t changed, our philosophies are still the same, so the girls know what to expect,” Dyer said. “It’s been great so far.”

The cupboard remains well stocked. Thibodeau, the individual Class A champ, and fellow seniors Allie Hesler and Kallie Warner each finished among the top 10 at the state meet last fall, as did sophomore Marina Violette. Bailey Shaw, another sophomore, was 22nd.

Marina Violette, left, and Addy Thibodeau of Bonny Eagle compete in a cross country meet at Falmouth Community Park on Thursday. Thibodeau is the defending Class A champion; Violette was one of four Bonny Eagle runners to finish in the top 10 at last year’s state meet. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

So how do they keep churning out titles? Obviously, there is hard work, dedication and thoughtful training involved. But both Dyer and his runners point to the feeder program back in junior high, where nearly all of them caught the distance running bug.

Ben Davis, who teaches physical education, runs that program.

“We joke that he is the winningest coach in Bonny Eagle history,” Dyer said. “He’s coached every single member of all our championship teams.”


Thibodeau said Davis made distance running fun.

“He gets us into the sport and he gets us liking it,” she said. “Then when we get to high school, it’s the athletes who make the difference. Each year they influence the next generation of runners. Delaney Hesler and Emmaline Pendleton and Hannah Stevens influenced me and my class. And our class is trying to influence the freshmen and sophomores. It’s like a snowball effect, almost.”

Allie Hesler said the program’s past success does put some pressure on the current crop to continue Bonny Eagle’s winning ways.

“I think it’s just trusting each other, because we all know we put in the work and if you have a bad day someone’s there for you,” she said. “Trusting each other and trying to stay as healthy as possible keeps us from not freaking out too much under pressure.”

Bonny Eagle senior Allie Hesler competes at Falmouth Community Park on Thursday. The Scots have won eight of the past 10 Class A state championships and are favored to repeat this fall. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Summer training is an integral part of the program. There’s also a preseason camping trip to Brownfield with the boys’ team, coached by Allie’s father, TJ Hesler.

So the transition, while sudden and unexpected, has been smooth.


“Initially, it was very shocking,” said senior Avelyn Walker. “That was a very rough run I went on that day. But Dyer and Burleson and TJ have been coaching together for years and they’re all such great people.”

Shaw, a sophomore, said the program’s welcoming atmosphere allows newcomers to flourish. There’s not so much a varsity and a junior varsity as there is one team that trains together.

“I think the dynamic that the coaches have created here is something special,” she said. “We’re such a tight-knit community, no matter your time. That’s really helped us, on and off the (trails).”

The Bonny Eagle girls’ cross country team, including senior Avelyn Walker, center, gathers before a meet at Falmouth Community Park last week. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Violette, another sophomore, said she was intimidated at first. Her older teammates, however,  were “super inclusive” and would provide post-practice rides to a local ice cream stand and host team dinners.

“Once you get to know the team, it feels like home,” she said. “It’s so easy to interact with everyone. They make practices so fun.”

Warner, a senior, carries a background of ballet and swimming into a sport that seems individual but in large part requires a shared commitment.

“I try to go to practice every day with a good spirit, trying to lift everybody up,” she said. “We all go through this pain together, so we’re kind of bonded by that.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.