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Cross country camp, speakers hoping to motivate runners

With the cross country season right around the corner, youth and high school runners have an opportunity to get motivated.

The Mitchell High School cross country program is hosting its fourth annual camp Monday through Thursday at Dakota Wesleyan University.

Former DWU athlete and cross country coach Paul Ekern, Mount Marty College coach Randy Fischer, University of Minnesota women's cross country coach Sarah Hesser and former South Dakota State University cross country and track and field coach Scott Underwood will be featured as guest speakers during the camp.

"As a college athlete and coach, I want to give the kids insight on what it takes to be a college athlete," said Ekern, who coached the Tigers for 13 years. "These high school runners should know what coaches seek out."

During Ekern's tenure at DWU, he hosted four camps and also attended camps held by SDSU and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Ekern believes camps provide a variety of information to runners that may help them in the future.

"It's a good learning tool for the young athletes to be able to train and learn from a good staff," he said. "They also end up building relationships with other athletes and find they have a lot in common.

Scott Munsen, head cross country coach for Mitchell High School, said getting people interested in running early in life is a challenge but hopes the sport will continue to grow in the community with the help of the camp and its guest speakers.

"I think (the runners) will learn a lot if they take in what our speakers have to say," Munsen said, adding this is the first year the camp will have a female speaker. "The speakers have done really well in the last few years."

Along with collegiate guest speakers, high School coaches from Mitchell, Pierre, Montevideo, Minn., Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, West Central, South Central and Marshall, Minn., are set to join the camp staff as well.

Pierre cross country coach Keith Christensen, who was the head of the Kernel program from 1979 to 1996, said athletes should be accustomed to learning from several different coaches.

"As you develop as a runner, you pick and choose from each educator and coach to see what works for you," said Christensen. "I think that's very important for athletes to have to make decisions when they're out there on their own."

Christensen said the interest in cross country in Mitchell has increased since Munsen took over the program four years ago.

"Scott has revitalized distance running in this town and it's been done before and it can be done again," Christensen said.

The camp has grown each year since its start and Munsen hopes it will continue to do so. The camp is $120 per person and $60 if the athlete is a day camper. All athletes that attend the entire camp stay on the DWU campus.

"We started out at the middle school and now have moved to the university, and we really appreciate them for letting us use their facilities," said Munsen, who ran at Augustana College and coached at the University of South Dakota from 1994 to 2002. "We're hoping we can continue to build running in Mitchell and I believe this camp will help."

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.