Sustained success in any sport is difficult, but the Tully High School boys and girls varsity cross country programs are a rare exception. The Black Knights have been a cut above the competition for years, and the evidence is irrefutable:
The girls team has won six straight sectional titles, while the boys haven’t lost a league meet in more than 17 years.
Why the Black Knights have been so good for so long is not a closely guarded secret, says Tully boys varsity coach Jim Paccia and girls varsity coach Michelle Rauber. Both agree that winning is just a byproduct of instilling basic principles in their athletes.
“Academics come first, then running comes next and family is important, too,” says Rauber. “There has to be a balance in what they do. We don’t train like some teams train. People ask me, ‘If you trained like that, could your girls be good?’ Well, maybe. But then I don’t see a lot of balance in their life. At the end of the day, it’s not about the wins, it’s about who you are. When they leave Tully, I want them to be strong, confident women.”
“If you have the work ethic and do the training and you become a part of a team, the winning takes care of itself,” Paccia says.
Paccia and Rauber, both accomplished runners, bring a wealth of training knowledge to their young charges.
“They know I don’t make stuff up.
They know the things I tell them to do are actually going to work,” Rauber says.
The Black Knights dropped from Class C to Class D this fall because of declined enrollment. Tully’s boys team came into the season having won 118 straight league meets. The girls finished second in the state last year in Class C and returned their entire lineup this fall.
“We work extremely hard to be as good as we are,” says Colleen Ward, one of just two seniors on the girls team that won the D-1 race at the Queensbury Cross Country Classic on Sept. 21.
After 31 years at Tully, Paccia’s past is his present. He’s seeing the children of former athletes come through his program. But Paccia’s coaching philosophy has never changed.
“It’s about having fun. It’s about learning morals and values and teamwork,” Paccia says. “It’s about hard work. I want them to find that inner drive and desire and discipline to hang on until the job is complete. That’s what I want them to get out of running.”
Junior Brad Phelps is aware of Tully’s winning tradition because his older brother, Marc, also ran cross country. He said wearing a Black Knights uniform comes with a certain amount of pressure.
“I embrace it. I watched my brother run on the team, and I saw their success and where it came from,” says Mike Edwards. “Success comes from being united and training hard.”
“There’s responsibility to the legacy that we’re carrying to the runners who have come through here in the past and have contributed to this win streak,” Paccia says.
Tully will be host to its annual invitational Saturday, Oct. 5. The school- and community-supported event will have more than 1,000 athletes representing 30 teams running in boys and girls races.