St. Helena, LA (FOX44) — When St. Helena Central Middle School teachers Brianne Hwang and Mary Yeh decided to take on the task of forming the school’s first cross-country team they didn't realize they would have to start entirely from scratch, with a group of kids that hadn’t really grasped the idea of what the sport was all about.
"Finally when I got to a fifth grade class I noticed that the kids were starting to ask each other questions about how many states we were going to run through. And I realized that they thought we were literally going to start in Louisiana and run across the country," Hwang explained.
But there have been more hurdles for the team to jump. Without a budget for their fledgling team the two didn't realize just how unprepared some of their runners would be.
"None of our kids, in fact none at all had proper running shoes. And so at first we were letting them run in whatever they showed up in. Whether it was basketball shoes, or converse or a ballet flat, really anything, a lot of kids would run barefoot," Hwang explained.
That’s when the two coaches decided to get friends, family and fellow teachers through their Teach For America network involved.
"So I asked for people to help support me by donating old shoes that could still be run in, clothes that could be run in. and we had a huge amount of support," Yeh added.
"I was running in my school shoes. And they're not good because they support my ankle, and I don't need ankle support shoes because I am not playing basketball,” said Runquiesha Myles, a member of the team said, “I would like to say 'thank you' for donating the shoes because we love to run."
And in a parish and a state battling serious obesity problem, for many students the team is just a way to learn how to live healthier life styles.
"I am happy, I lost a lot of weight since I did it, and I got in shape. I started eating better," Corinthius Matthews, another cross country member, explained.
This is the first time in close to a decade that the St. Helena Central Middle schoolers have had extra-curricular sports made available to them, and this is the school corporation’s first Cross-Country team. Sports options at the moment are limited, but teachers are hopeful they’ll continue to grow after school programs in the years to come.