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The Sad state of Foothill H.S. Cross Country

Original post made by Bernard Laffer on Nov 6, 2011

Another EBAL Cross Country Championships has come and on and as I review the results I find that Foothill H.S. has taken its regular place at the bottom . The Boys team took last in the team race and the Girls team placed 3rd from last. Foothill's cross town rival Amador HS placed 2nd in both team races. They also had the individual winner in the Girls race. Cross Country is a pure sport requiring little more than some grass, dirt and hills to train and race. Participants learn to appreciate the joy of running an activity that can be continued throughout life. The difference between the two programs is commitment and leadership. Amador runs a structured program that prepares its team members to compete to the best of their ability It is obvious that Foothill does not demonstrate similar leadership. Our students are being short changed. Cross Country and the distance part of Track and Field are teams that do not cut people. Anybody can join and success can be had through consistent training. The Foothill students are being short changed. It is time that the school takes a critical look at the efforts of its coaches . There are a multitude of traning theories that can lead to Cross Country success. One common ingredient is found in all: commitment. It is time the Foothill coaches developed that ingredient or moved on. Our students deserve better.

Comments (31)

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Nov 6, 2011 at 11:55 am

I dare say that some folks take sports too seriously. The students trained, they competed, and they were not #1.

Bernie, you come across as a pushy guy and you don't seem to appreciate the effort that the coaches and team made to even compete.

Congrats to all the runners...way to, your bud Cholo!


Posted by Mike, a resident of Highland Oaks
on Nov 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm


Armchair coaching never won a meet, and bad-mouthing your home team is not the way forward. How about volunteering your talents at after-school practice?


Posted by Bill, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 6, 2011 at 3:30 pm

If you want a great cross country team it has to begin with the incoming freshmen class. It takes a good 4 years to build a championship team. One or two runners must have a desire to push the limits of their bodies to enable a frontrunner in every meet. Having a runner consistently in the the top two places gives the other members of the team the drive necessary to test their limits also.

Once a varsity team begins to win a few meets, the winning becomes contagious and is easily passed down to the next varsity team.

Long distance running is an all year sport. The team has to continue to compete and train in the off season if they want to maintain a winning season from one year to the next.

I would not put too much emphasis on the coach. The coach is good for whistle blowing pace counts when doing interval training, but the real reason a team is great is because of the shared responsibiliy to "push it to the limit" in training which translates to winning at meets.

I was fortunate to be a member of a cross country team which placed 14th in the nation. The lead runner on a team that was 5 years ahead of my class still holds several Calfornia high school distance running records. He was instrumental in starting a winning tradition. Young runners want to emulate a winner.

Posted by Cross Country Runner, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I am a Foothill Cross Country runner and I have to agree with the writer, Mr. Laffer. The vast majority of the team does not run regularly because the coach doesn't cut anyone. He does not even show up for summer practices, while the Amador summer training regimen is an intensive, all summer program.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Nov 6, 2011 at 6:59 pm

how come winning a race matters so much?

Posted by Sam, a resident of Oak Hill
on Nov 6, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Cross Country Runner said: "I am a Foothill Cross Country runner and I have to agree with the writer, Mr. Laffer. The vast majority of the team does not run regularly because the coach doesn't cut anyone. He does not even show up for summer practices, while the Amador summer training regimen is an intensive, all summer program."

Hey, "Cross Country Runner", I've got a question for you: How is your individual performance affected by how much the rest of the team does or does not practice? Now if you were participating in a true "team sport" (e.g., football, basketball, baseball) in which everyone has to play as a team on the field in order to succeed, I could understand your gripe if the rest of the team were slacking off. But cross country running? How are your chances of winning the race harmed if the rest of the team is slacking off? The answer is that your chances are in no way harmed regardless of how good or bad the rest of the team is. That may also explain why your coach doesn't cut anyone off the running team. What would be the point of that?

Posted by Cross Country Runner, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2011 at 9:11 pm

To Sam, a resident of the Oak Hill neighborhood, I would recommend that he actually understand what he is talking about before he begins to do so, and accuse running of not being a "team sport." The TEAM Cross Country score is calculated by adding up all individual place spots; the team with the lowest number (i.e that has runners that place well) wins. So it indeed matter how the rest of the team does.

As to the idea of not cutting anyone, nobody has a problem with runner who are not very fast but put in the effort. The injustice done is allowing runners who only show up to meets to remain on the team. It is an insult to the integrity of the team and the runners like myself who actually put work into the support.

I hope that answers your "question" sufficiently.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 6, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Cholo - to answer your question you should ask Frank Shorter, winner of the 1972 Olympic marathon at the Munich games. I would imagine that Frank had to win a whole lot of races that didn't matter that much in order to win the big one. Such is life.

Cross Country runner - what is preventing you from asking the Amador guys if you could train with them over the summer? It was standard practice in my high school days to include other runners from the local schools to practice with our squad or to share transportation to some of the better footraces across the Bay Area, like the Dipsea Trail Run.

Posted by Sam, a resident of Oak Hill
on Nov 6, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Dear "Cross Country Runner", cross country running is intrinsically an INDIVIDUAL sport. There is no team interaction as there is in baseball, football, or basketball, etc.. The members of your team run as INDIVIDUALS. Yes, there may be "team scoring", but it is a rather meaningless measure. If you are a below-average runner, but attend the same school as a squad of top-flight runners you may be awarded a "team medal" but, again, it's rather meaningless, isn't it? There was no "teamwork" involved.

So instead of griping about the effort or lack of effort shown by your "teammates", why don't you focus on improving your own individual performance? If you get an individual medal, then that would be a meaningful award. If you don't perform well as an individual, then why would you think that you deserve a "team" award due to the superior efforts of others? There's no "teamwork" in cross country running. There are just good individual runners and poor individual runners.

Posted by kt, a resident of Canyon Oaks
on Nov 6, 2011 at 10:43 pm

There are a few competitive runners on this team. These runners try their best to push themselves, but without a summer program to get them motivated, they are already behind the pack before the season starts. It is frustrating that more is not expected of every runner on the team.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Nov 7, 2011 at 8:08 am

How do long distance runners train. I enjoy watching track and field events but I know little about how long distance runners train?

Posted by Foothill xc runner, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 5:42 pm

I <3 SOS! He's a great coach who keeps getting better year after year. He is really committed to our team and anyone that goes to practice can see that he really does care and is trying his best to help us improve both individually and as a team.

Posted by me, a resident of Foothill High School
on Nov 7, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Thanks, KT for recognizing that there are some competitive runners on the team. If Bernard had followed the whole season, he would know that there are some runners that have had top 5 or top 10 finishes this season (just not at the EBAL meet).

No one is perfect. I have personally seen Coach Sos at the meets. He is dedicated to these kids and has gift for working with them. During track season, he is the last one there, taking down equipment. I'm sure he works way more than he gets paid. He also uses his lunch hour to help students with their math..even though is not their teacher. He does not have to do this.

Posted by Lillian, a resident of Del Prado
on Nov 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm

As the mother of a cross country runner from Amador, I know what the sport of cross country is like, and how the teams of our city are. Foothill's Cross Country Team is amazing. I've seen them practice before, and I've seen their excellent teamwork and support at the meets. Their coach is a great guy too. Don't go around saying things that harm their team's brilliant reputation.
Unless you are a cross country runner yourself, don't write articles or blog posts on false statements on cross country teams, especially ones from your own town. It's unnecessary and plain rude. Foothill's team is magnificent.

Posted by Nathan, a resident of Del Prado
on Nov 7, 2011 at 7:17 pm

The criticisms against our team are not without merit. im a runner myself, and im not gonna lie, we're not perfect. However, that doesn't diminish the fact that a majority of us come together as a team in practices and meets, work hard because of our passion for fitness and running, and push each other to do our best. we don't have to be number 1, as long as we try our best and achieve our personal goals, its all that matters-as cliched as that may sound.yes, some do slack off, but many more put in their individual effort . also, coach brian rocks as well!

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Foothill High School
on Nov 7, 2011 at 7:56 pm

One of the best things about the Foothill cross country team is that you can always find support from teammates and the coaches. These past years I have been on the team have been absolutely wonderful. The coaches sincerely care about how their runners are doing and have done a great job with the team. They don't tell us to be fast simply because they want to win. In fact, they don't just tell us, "Go fast." They teach and tell us how to improve. They understand that every runner is different and will tailor the practices to him/her accordingly.

If you looked at the EBAL results, you'll see that many of the runners got their PR's – and that certainly does not come without commitment. Winning is not an accurate measurement of hard work nor leadership. What do you say to the teams that don't get first? Sorry, you didn't get first because you didn't work hard enough? You didn't have enough commitment? I can tell you from personal experience – and from sports experiences outside of being on the cross country team – that sometimes a team will push themselves to the limit, put its heart and mind into it and still not get first. The Foothill coaches give us the tools to improve: maintaining our health & diets, varied sets that have specific purposes, extra exercises for strengthening, and support regardless of whether your skill level. So please don't point any fingers at the coaches. They have done an amazing job not only making the team welcoming and fun but also training the runners so that they become better.

Mr. Laffer (and anyone else for that matter!), if you would like to help the Foothill cross country team improve, please do share the "multitude of training theories" that you know instead of bashing on the coaches and efforts of the runners. Please reserve your judgment until you have actually become familiar with this team.

Posted by sam is an idiot, a resident of Danville
on Nov 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm

I can't believe the nonsense Sam is posting with such
an aggressive tone about Cross Country not having
a team component. Very obvious he has never
competed at a high level, or might I venture to say
any level. Cross Country is all about team training.

Posted by Brett, a resident of Highland Oaks
on Nov 7, 2011 at 8:46 pm

I am here to echo the sentiments of my fellow team mates in the support of the Foothill Cross Country Program. I have just finished my second year on the Cross Country team at Foothill High School. I am very grateful for the leadership and training I have received from all the coaches and fellow team mates.

High School Athletics is much more than winning and losing. It is about teamwork, respect, understanding your limits and pushing yourself to do your best no matter the outcome. As most people know we compete in a very difficult league in most of our sports, in fact EBAL is considered one of the top athletic leagues in Northern California. If you compare our results to other leagues, our results would look more impressive. Thus our success should not be measured in the ranks of the few teams in the EBAL section, but should be measured based on the improvement we have made over the season as our runner become stronger and our times become lower. We have a great team, not just the amazing runners who help lead our team as captians but all athletes as a whole. On top of that the head coach is a great leader and teacher. He does not just teach in the class room, but teaches in the field, the team's has learned a great deal from him and any one who has have pleasure of meeting him would understand all our admiration.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion but it is clear that the overwhelming positive responses to the initial blog show the support of Foothill Cross Country Program and it's leadership

Thank you,

Eagle Scout

Posted by ptownmom, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2011 at 9:29 pm


As a young person, thank you for setting some "so-called adults" straight. Your perspective is spot on and your respect for your coach is admirable. EBAL standings should not be the be-all and end-all.

Congratulations to you and your teammates for a great season!

Posted by Mom, a resident of Foothill High School
on Nov 7, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Congrats to all for a great performance on Saturday. There were some great races and great performances. Many PR's by Foothill HS athletes!
Good luck to those performing at NCS in two weeks!

Posted by Bill, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 8, 2011 at 11:39 am

Cholo - to answer your question, how do long distance runners train?....There are two types of training, long distance runs, and interval work. The long distance runs, typically 8 to 12 miles, conditions the body for distance and prepares the runner mentally for the stress involved in running continuously for many miles. Interval work is done on a track where each day the runner does multiple short runs at an elevated pace, with a short resting period between each run. The runs are typically fractions of a mile to one mile runs. The shorter the distance the more intervals are run. The main purpose for this workout is to increase speed. Other benefits are increasing lung capacity, lowering resting heart rate, teaching the body to run at any pace within its natural stride, and conditioning the body for stress (efficient use of water, oxygen, and glycogen (fuel).

A good measure of a runner's condition is to see what pace can be kept running (10) quarter mile laps with a rest of two minutes between each lap. The gold standard (at least in my years as a HS runner) was Jim Ryan's ability to go sub 60 seconds for each quarter mile. This was when he was a high school runner!

Sam - I have to agree that today's cross country races are laid out to benefit the faster runners, that is the better runner you are the better place you will finish. However this is not always true. In a true cross country race, the race course is often a trail. In order to have a good finish requires that the team race as a unit and use strategy to block advances from other teams. The Damit run (race that goes up the face of Lexington Reservoir Dam in Los Gatos is a race like this. There are portions of this run where a team can block the advances of good runners by knowing when to outpace the pack. Hence the competitive edge in training as a team and the necessity for doing interval workouts.

Posted by Sam, a resident of Oak Hill
on Nov 8, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Bill, thanks for the info. I wasn't aware that it was possible to legally block other runners or that team strategy played any role in races.

At any rate, I see that I should have toned down my harsh criticism of cross country running as a team sport. As Brett's post shows, there is sense of camaraderie and team participation, and that the most important characteristic of a true team.

As for the coach, I don't know anything about him other than what I've read here but I do view his apparent reluctance to cut people from the team as being a positive. At the professional level games are all about winning. But at the high school level sports should be more about building experience and character. So I would hope that there is a spot on every high school sports team for any student who genuinely really has his or her heart in the sport and is willing to put in the necessary time and effort into his training regardless of his or her level of natural sports ability.

Posted by Jacob, a resident of Foothill High School
on Nov 8, 2011 at 4:20 pm

The EBAL League is an incredibly competitive League. Last year, in the North Coast Section Meet (A Cross Country meet containing a variety of leagues), out of a race of 20 schools overall, 5 of the top 7 schools were from the EBAL league. Our last place finish tells far more about the competitiveness of the league than the shortcomings of the team.

As for the meet itself, 37 out of a total of 48 runners who ran improved their times from previous meets, hardly a failure. Our team could definitely be better if many of its younger runners were more committed, but if by comittiment you are somehow implying our coaches are to blame for the lack of comittiment, you are mistaken, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Our varisty athletes who run in these races spend two hours after school each day running and often get together on weekends, over the summer, and holidays for extra practice. They are committed beyond a doubt- but someone still has to finish first and some team has to finish last.
Best Regards

Posted by Betsy, a resident of Foothill High School
on Nov 8, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I am the mother of a varsity Foothill Cross Country runner. I found Mr. Laffer's comments hurtful and uncalled for. Coach Sos and the athletes may not be perfect but they are working hard. It is unfair to criticize.

My son is now a senior. For the past four years Coach Sos has encouraged my son to push himself to do his best and strive for excellence. I have seen my son train and run everyday from 3:00-5:00. He and a group of Foothill runners continue to train after the cross country season is over and during the summer.

Coach Sos realizes that his athletes are also students with lives outside of the cross country sport. Many of the athletes are in other demanding activities such as band, We the People, heavy AP loads etc. Several of the runners are already (or almost) Eagle Scouts. Many have above 4.0 GPA's. Sos allows the athletes to pursue their other interests, even if it sometimes interferes with the practice schedule. Life is more than winning meets. Life is about finding balance with all your endeavors.

Thank you Sos for supporting our student athletes.

Posted by Bernard Laffer, a resident of Pheasant Ridge
on Nov 10, 2011 at 9:23 am

My comments are not made without good reason. I spent most of my life competing and coaching in x- country. track and field. Running is a pure sport that is measured by the effort tht you as an individual put into it. High school sports are ompettiive ( ask the football coaches). They also provide preparation for life. The individaul who stated that too much empasis is placed on winning should consider the basic structure of our society which rewards winning above all else. To state that the responsibility for performance falls solely on the athlete is out of their mind. Leadership starts at the top with the coach. All you have to do is look at the Amador program to see what I am talking about. Distance running is a sport that can help a student gain entrance to a better university. All major academic colleges have cross country and track teams. The coaches actively recruit. The Ivy leagues and elite insititutions like Amherst, Williams,etc all field teams. A school like Foothill has plenty of distance running talent walking the halls, . Unfortunately the success of a program starts with the coach. DO YOU REALIZE THAT MANY OF THE ELITE ACADEMIC UNIVERSITIES ALLOW COACHES TO DESIGNATE ATHLETES FOR ADMISSION .When I coached at James Logan HS I was able to get my miler into Brown University with only 1140 on the SAT. He only ran 4.21 for the mile. Brown Univeristy changed his life. Neither of his parents had gone to college. His success motivated his younger brother to attend John Hopkins.A high school coach is paid for that specific task. How many of you have seen the Amador runners meeting early in the morning to train as a group during the summer. Where do you think the motivation omes from? THE COACH. Running builds character. It also teaches the skills that you can carry through life. - effort,planning and intestinal fortitude. I am not wirting to cricize the Foothill athletes. I feel sorry for them . They are not fortunate enough the experience the strong leadership that the Amador team does. They deserve better.

Posted by kt, a resident of Del Prado
on Nov 10, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Bernard, I agree with you. I am a xc parent, and am more than aware of the issues with FHS xc. It isn't fair to those runners who could be more competitive, and don't have the guidance or proper training. What a waste! In this competitive atmosphere, any assistance in getting recognized by college coaches is important. Is there a way you could contact the FHS athletic director to express your very valid concerns?

Posted by Sam, a resident of Oak Hill
on Nov 10, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Bernard Laffer said "The Ivy leagues and elite insititutions like Amherst, Williams,etc all field teams....Unfortunately the success of a program starts with the coach. DO YOU REALIZE THAT MANY OF THE ELITE ACADEMIC UNIVERSITIES ALLOW COACHES TO DESIGNATE ATHLETES FOR ADMISSION .When I coached at James Logan HS I was able to get my miler into Brown University with only 1140 on the SAT."

No, Bernard, being a top athlete is NOT the way to get into the Ivy League. None of the members of the Ivy League even offer athletic scholarships. Did you know that? Sort of tells you how highly the Ivy League values jocks, doesn't it? Your claim that "elite academic universities allow coaches to designate athletes for admission" is total BS. The athletic departments at elite universities such as the Ivy League have ZERO influence over the admissions process.

Posted by Frustrated, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 11, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Mr. Laffer,
Have you offered you services to the high school as a volunteer for the XC or track program? Have you tried to contact the coach, the AD or the school before you posted this very public criticism? Also, last year, Hart Middle school was in need of a coach and volunteers for both XC and track.
I'm sure your assistance would be welcome in either program.
Put your money where your mouth is.

Posted by Bernard Laffer, a resident of Pheasant Ridge
on Nov 14, 2011 at 12:33 pm

You know not what you speak. Many elite academic schools do not scholarship. The IVY'S, The Patriot League( Lehigh, Bucknell, Bucknell, Colgate,Fordham,etc), National liberal arts schools like Amherst, Williams,Swathmore, Haverford,etc, all offer extensive financial aid and athletic grants ( the athletic dept pick up a loan and your work study). Sports matter a great deal in these schools. The Lehigh - Lafayette football rivalry is the longest running in NCAA HISTORY. I believe that it dates back the the 1860's. Ivy League athletics are a big deal and membership on a varsity team can lead to a job. If track and field did not matter to Amherst, why do they have a former 3.54 miler and 1.45 half miler as coach. Haverford had a 3.38 1500 runner and also a 13.38 5000m and an 28.20 10,000m runners on the team at the same time. Their coach is a former Villanova steeplechaser who was one of the tops in the nation in the late 1960's. Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter, two of our greatest all time marathon runners ( Shorter won the Olympics in 1972 and was second in 1976 ).Together they were responsible for the road running boom in the USA. Bill went to Wesleyan and Frank to Yale. Frank was an NCAA CHAMPION IN COLLEGE.NEITHER SCHOOL SCHOLARSHIPS. You can stick your head in the ground and act as if the Foothill runners are getting proper leadership.The answer is NO. If an AP PHYSICS teacher taught his class like the cross country team is coached you would scream for his dismissal because nobody would pass the AP EXAM. JUST BECAUSE A COACH IS NICE TO YOUR CHILDREN DOES IT MEAN HE HAS THEIR BEST INTEREST AT HEART.If someone accepts the position and accepts the monetary stipend they should do the job. All you have to do is look across town to find a coach who is doing his job. There is a large running community in the Tri- Valley. I am sure many people would be interested in helping if asked. PMS HAD A PARENT VOLUNTEER WHO WAS EXCELLENT. HER WORKOUTS WERE CREATIVE AND WELL PLANNED. SHE DID NOT MAKE IT EASY ON THE STUDENTS. SHE HAD REAL EXPECTATIONS. Iam sure that she could provide great leadership for Foothill. It is not that hard to coach Cross Country if you care. Unfortunately the present coach does not.By the way about 4 years ago I gave a series of workouts that ave been the foundation of many NYC high school and college programs. They were created in the mid 1960's by Doug Terry, the legendary Boy's HS( Brooklyn) and later the Brown University coach . His team jointly held the National H.S. 2 mile realy record of 7.35.4 ( 7.33.6 for meters ) Vinnie Mathews the Olympic 400m champion in 1972 used Doug's workouts as did many other Eastern greats. It would have served as a great foundation for his program. I am betting he never looked at the workouts.

Posted by Amador Runner, a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Nov 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I was a track and xc runner for all 4 years of high school at amador and I must say that I agree with what Mr Laffer has to say. Motivation must come from the coach but it is also the athletes that have to actually provide the work, dedication, heart, etc. into their running. I've met Coach Sos personally on many occasions and he came across as an extremely nice guy who tried to keep things in order at track meets and at other events. From what I've witnessed over the years and have heard from friends on the foothill xc team, it is mostly lack of interest, awareness, caring and individuals ditching practice is quite common. Amador has had these same struggles and have been overcome. if any of you remember amador was towards the bottom of league many years ago and has come a long way. We had a horrendous losing streak and now we're sending both xc teams to state for the very first time. This could easily happen if foothill had the right set of athletes with the determination and willingness to comply. This situation might just happen to be that the time hasn't come yet, and just because things aren't going great doesn't mean that it won't get better. Some of the people I knew on foothill's cross country team dropped out senior year and got into some bad stuff (drinking, smoking)... I wouldn't blame this on the coach or the team but what I can say is that something is definitely wrong and perhaps some of these problems simply stem from home. I wish the best for both pleasanton xc teams.

Posted by Track Guy, a resident of Pheasant Ridge
on Dec 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm

In my opinion the frustration voiced by many students and parents in Pleasanton with Foothill's Cross Country (and track program) comes from Foothill's teams being measured against Amador. Amador under Scarpelli and now Ozzie has developed into a top notch regional program. Foothill continues to move in the opposite direction.

Foothill would not accept mediocrity from its Football program. Why does Foothill accept mediocrity from its Cross Country program?

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