In 1988, Kennedy High School had one of the premier female distance programs in Montgomery County. Kennedy girls claimed the top three individual spots at the cross country county championship that year, something that no team has done since.
In the 20 years following that 1988 season, the Kennedy cross country team struggled. For two decades, Kennedy found itself in the bottom one-third of the county standings if it even fielded a complete team at all.
Kevin Monroe has coached the Kennedy track & field team since 2002. In the past ten years, Monroe has sent numerous athletes and relays to the state championship in the sprints, hurdles, jumps, and throws. The distance program, he realized, was lacking.
Monroe was not the cross country coach, but he could see that the cross country program was in fact moving backwards.
"They had kids coming out, but they would quit because they treated it like a joke."
Wanting to see an improvement in the Kennedy distance program, Monroe stepped in as the cross country coach in 2009. 6 girls and 8 boys ran for the team that season. Both teams finished near the bottom of Montgomery County, but the girls team found itself in the middle of a weak 3A West region and qualified for the state championship for the first time in 21 years.
In 2010, David Warren was introduced to the Kennedy cross country team as the new assistant coach. Monroe recognized Warren's passion for the sport and allowed him to develop the training program.
"Dave loves cross country. To be fair to him and to the kids, I decided to step back."
By 2011, Warren was the head cross country coach and the team had more than doubled from 12 kids in 2009 to 27 kids in 2011.
In 2012, there are about 40 kids on the team including 14 girls that showed up for the first day of practice on August 11. Monroe serves as the master recruiter for the cross country team according to Warren.
"He got Kemol Anderson to run cross country [500m county champion]. Nicolette Clarke saw Kemol's success and decided to run cross country. Now the other girls are seeing Nicolette's success and they want that."
Monroe agrees that he does the in-house recruiting, but says that Warren is being too modest.
"The kids love Dave. I recruit, but they stay because of Dave."
At their preseason meeting in the spring, Warren reminded everybody of the sense of accomplishment that followed the county and regional meets.
"At counties they rocked it. I told everyone to come into next season the way they ended the last."
The runners took the initiative to start a facebook group and schedule multiple team runs each week over the summer. About half the runners trained over the summer according to Warren. To put this in perspective, he said with 100% confidence that none of the kids did any training before the 2010 season.
The full spectrum of conditioning was on display at Kennedy's Monday afternoon practice in late August. The athletes ran from Kennedy High School to a nearby empty soccer field behind a county park police station. The assigned workout was a 20 minute fartlek around the soccer field - half the perimeter hard, half the perimeter easy. For those with less summer conditioning, the fartlek quickly devolved into a slow 20 minute trot. For the runners who put in the summer work and for a few eager freshmen, the workout was challenging yet fun.
Samantha Herath is one of two remaining members from the team that went to the state meet three years ago. She was the audible leader during the stretching and core workout and one of the leaders organizing practices on facebook over the summer. Warren thinks that she could drop up to two minutes from her typical 24 minute range 5k's this year.
Binyam Tadesse was the clear lead runner on the team, consistently lapping his teammates on the large soccer field by running the hard half hard and maintaining an honest pace on the easy half. The rising sophomore, who ran a 4:47 mile last year as a freshman, said that he didn't "get it" until track season last year, but added that he wants to get under 17:00 in a 5k this year.
He is quickly developing a passion for the sport and learning about the greatest Ethiopian distance runners such as Kenenisa Bekele.
At the end of practice, Warren gave the OK for everyone to run back to the school. Most of the kids bolted out of site. Tadesse followed Warren to the trunk of his car where he was handed an old unmarked VHS tape.
"This is the 2004 Olympics," said Warren. "I want you to watch this."