After losing most of a team from a previous year, some teams would be looking to rebuild. Not the Forest City cross-country teams; the Indians are looking to reload and push for more hardware.
The Forest City boys and girls XC teams swept the team conference championships a year ago. The Forest City boys beat GHV by six points to edge the Cardinals, while the girls thought they were going to finish second, but when the dust cleared, they had nearly defeated North Iowa, scoring a low 72 to North Iowa and Osage’s 75. The Forest City boys also qualified for state as a team due in part to its ‘pack-style’ racing.
While last year’s accomplishments are exciting to revisit, the Indians and second-year head coach DJ Wolfram have turned the page to the 2023 team and how the Indians can get back to winnings way after losing ten varsity runners between the boys and girls teams.
“For many people, that’s almost irreplaceable, but our best recruiters really were our returners. On the boys’ side, we had a really good eighth-grade class that went undefeated. On lady’s side, we had 11 new girls come out; the girls spread the word on how much fun they have and how empowered they felt – this is a group people want to work hard for”, said Coach Wolfram.
On the boys’ side, sophomores Ethan Bertram and Silas Gann are the lone returners. Gann running in high school for the first time last year was taken in by the senior leaders and shown the ropes. Now, as the fastest returning varsity runner, Gann feels it’s his turn to help lead the younger runners.
“I’m excited to kinda be a leader because we have a lot of freshmen on our team, so it will be fun to inspire and push them, said Gann. He added that running with all seniors last year,“(I) learned how to be a really good leader and how to lead the team and like push them and make them enjoy cross country.”
One of those young runners that coach Wolfram expects to, at some point, maybe right away, impact the Indians is Cooper Blaser. The freshman helped the Forest City eighth-grade XC team finish undefeated a year ago.
“It’s been so much fun so far; we all push each other to limits – it’s just been fun, said the young Blaser. He added, “Silas is such a good runner, and he had a varsity spot last year, so If I can stick around him, I know I’ll be doing a decent time,” Blazer said, trying to make the varsity roster.
The Forest City XC program is known for its culture. While sitting at practice for less than an hour, KIOW observed an abundance of high fives, fist bumps, and cheers of encouragement. Senior Emilie Weaver mentioned that’s something that started long ago, and this senior class of leaders is happy to keep it going.
“Honestly, it was a culture that was set a long time ago, before any of us were ever here, but its something that we try and grow every year,” said Weaver. She added, “I remember when I was in middle school, I was told by the high schoolers that the cross country team is a family ever since I’ve been in high school; that’s been my experience – this year, it’s been even closer than I’ve experienced (before).”
That’s shown by Okojobi transfer Zoey Holmes. Holmes’ family recently moved here to Forest City, and the all-state runner says the community has embraced them with welcoming arms.
” It’s been so crazy like, (other people) would be like, oh, a new person, let’s be nice for a week. I’ve been here for like a month or two, and every single day, I’m surprised how genuinely kind these people are – I’m happy to be here.
Holmes is a three-time state track qualifier for the Pioneers; in May, she was in four events at the state track and field championship and earned three medals. She helped the sprint medley team finish 7th, the 4×100 team finish 5th, and the 4×200 team ran the 29th best time ever in Iowa, finishing second and nearly winning a state championship. Okoboji was also one point from qualifying for state cross country last fall, and Holmes finished 19th individually at the state qualifying meet.
Everything Holmes is going through is the last firsts as she enters her senior year. Still, to her, it feels different, “It’s crazy because it feels like the first firsts, not like the last first, you know, like, my first practice was my last first practice – I’m definitely trying to soak it all in because it goes by so fast and I just want to appreciate every moment,” she said.
The Indians will also take advantage of the new dual-sport agreement the Forest City board approved in June, allowing athletes to participate in more than one sport during the same season. Forest City multiple-sport star Bethany Warren will run for the Indians while playing a significant role on the volleyball team. Under the new agreement, an athlete must designate a primary and secondary sport. If both sports have a competition on the same night, the athletes must participate in their primary sport. In the case of Warren, her primary sport is volleyball, but on a few nights this season, she can participate in cross country. She will also be eligible for the cross-country conference and postseason.
“Having Bethany Warren run with us for a little bit, I think, is going to be a real game changer and really put us over the top,” said Coach Wolfram.
The use of multiple sports agreements became common this past winter when the IGHSAU sanctioned girls wrestling. Many girls from schools around the state had participated in basketball because girls wrestling wasn’t offered. But when the IGHSAU approved girls wrestling, instead of making the girls choose between basketball – which they’ve become good at – or wrestling, something they might want to try or something that runs in the family or school history – schools allowed girls to participate in both as long as they designated a primary and secondary sport.
All four athletes mentioned they’d like to improve times from years past and win a conference title, plus get the girls and boys to the state meet.
The Indians will also get the services of new assistant coach, Michael Pettengill, who spent almost a decade as the head coach at Central Springs. Pettengill recently took a teaching job at Forest City, which will allow the Indians to have essentially two head coaches. Pettengill has been named on multiple occasions the Top of Iowa Conference Coach of the Year.
“It’s been great, DJ has accepted me and the team has accepted me. DJ allowed me to run some of the summer workouts and get connections with the runners”, said Pettengill.
Pettengill will teach chemistry and physical science at Forest City. He taught at Central Springs for 12 and brings a wealth of teaching and coaching experience to Forest City.
The Indians’ first meet is scheduled for August 29th.