The record of the Staples-Motley High School runners is truly extraordinary by any measure. However, if we are to take the quotes of coach Gene Mattila in the Nov. 3 article by Troy Gunderson at face value, we are forced to make the conclusion that "The ends justify the means." This trite saying seems to fit the bill regarding comments made by coach Mattila, about his runners deliberately slamming into each other during this year's State Cross Country Meet and resulting in personal injury to one of them. Mattila stated, "We teach our kids to be mean. You don't let anyone by you." What about cooperation, teamwork, sportsmanship, respect for your opponents? These concepts seem to be missing from coach Mattila's playbook. His methods would take the joy out of running the thousands of people experience daily.
I have coached high school cross country running, cross country skiing and track for 35 years with some success: Five state championships, three athletes went on to make Olympic teams, several dozen sectional and conference championships, and dozens of athletes who competed in college. In addition, I have competed in hundreds of running and cc skiing events at all levels, including national championships and Olympic Trials. These races had huge fields of highly competitive athletes, and I have rarely seen the behavior that Troy Gunderson seems to dote on and Coach Mattila eagerly promotes.
Making cross country running out as something akin to roller derby is demeaning to the sport and to thousands of respectful athletes around the world. A high level of success shouldn't excuse an individual or group from the rules of ethical behavior in athletics, business, government, etc. as we have seen too often in today's society.
Patrick D. Lanin
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