Football kicked off its official practices with Midnight Madness over the weekend, but it’s not the only fall sport getting under way.
The Mount Airy cross country team held its first practice on Monday afternoon, but for the first time in 11 years the Granite Bears are with a new leader.
Andrew Howard officially left Mount Airy High School this summer to pursue a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership at Pfeiffer University in Charlotte. Howard will also serve as a graduate assistant for Pfeiffer’s cross country team.
Under Howard, Mount Airy won three individual state championships in cross country. The team is also in the midst of a six-year run with at least one individual conference champion.
However, the former Mount Airy coach believes the cross country program he’s leaving behind is primed for more success. One of the biggest reasons is the man replacing him, Clarence Cropps.
“Clarence has been running forever, and he even coached me when I was in high school,” Howard said. “We have very similar running and training plans, and he knows how to motivate the kids. When I decided to leave, I knew he would take over the program and everything would be fine.”
Cropps has been a fixture in the running family at Mount Airy High School for a long time. He started out as a volunteer assistant coach more than 20 years ago, and in 2009, he took over as the head coach of the track and field program.
He has never run or coached cross country, but Cropps believes his experience coaching the distance runners in track and field will make this a smooth transition.
“I’ve coached almost all of the cross country kids already, just as distance runners,” Cropps said. “Not much will change. I’ll have to add some mileage and hills, but for the most part I’ll be able to use many of the workouts and training methods I already know.”
Howard and Cropps agree that much of the program’s success will boil down to the kids. They both believe that a coach can only do so much when it comes to preparing the runners physically.
“You have to have kids that love to run,” Cropps said. “If you love it, you’re competitive, and you have the team concept, you will be successful.”
Cropps is planning on retiring from his private-sector job at the end of the year, but he still hopes to coach the track and cross country teams into the foreseeable future.
Howard is heading the opposite direction in his career arc. He hopes to finish up his master’s degree in two years and then become a full-time coach at the collegiate level.
“Almost all coaching jobs need experience running, and a master’s degree,” Howard said. “My whole goal in life is to get paid to coach, and that’s what I’m currently working toward.”
Jackson Fuller is a sports reporter for The News and can be reached at 415-4702.