This article appears in the January issue of 400 Life.
It’s 6 o’clock on a Wednesday night as the cool fall breeze descends on Fowler Park. The skate park and basketball courts are mostly barren, but on the track, 20 middle schoolers are showcasing their running abilities as part of a practice.
David Ericson stands to the side, smiling with pride as he watches members of the Junior Wolverine Running Club train for their next event.
As a runner almost since birth, Ericson instilled a passion for the sport of cross country in his children. In 2012, the opportunity to turn running from a passion into a community service arose.
“My daughter had run in eighth-grade [in 2012] and we had her running with West [Forsyth High School] — running JV (junior varsity) races and middle school meets,” Ericson said. “I was coaching her and Coach [Clayton] Tillery would let me take her to meets. She ended up winning the region JV meet and neither Tillery or I realized you weren’t allowed to run middle schoolers in Forsyth County high school meets.”
So in 2013, Ericson founded the Junior Wolverine Running Club.
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The program started out as just a cross country team for middle schoolers and about 30 kids from across the county, mostly the West district, showed up to train with Ericson. Eventually, the program evolved into a year-long running club, with focus on cross country during fall and track during winter to get ready for the spring season.
“There were no middle school running teams so that’s why we started this club,” Ericson said. “Now, most of the schools in the county have cross country teams, so this is more of a feeder team for the middle school and high school. Attendance is lower during the season because they’re going to middle school practices.”
Even in the winter, with temperatures flirting with below-30 degrees and midterm exams approaching, 15-20 kids will still meet to run. While the program’s focus is kids from fifth- to eighth-grade, Ericson said that younger kids and their family members are allowed to practice with the club.
Working with teenagers and pre-teens, Ericson stresses the importance of building a love of running in them, rather than training them to win the Olympics.
“If they don’t love running, they aren’t going to put the work in to be a better runner,” Ericson said. “I’ll have some parents who will drop their kids off that maybe they don’t want to be there and I just try to make it as fun as possible. I have some kids who want to be there and want to work hard, so I’ll push them as hard as they want to be pushed. It’s a wide spectrum.”
Living in Forsyth County, the possibilities of where to run are seemingly endless. The club will usually meet at Fowler, but will also test their trail skills on the Big Creek Greenway or at Sawnee Mountain.
There are kids who enjoy the trail, off road running because it isn’t monotonous. Ericson falls in this party.
But there are others who prefer the track.
“For some kids, the track doesn’t lie,” Ericson said. “What I mean ... in cross country each course is different so you can’t really compare times, but all tracks you run four laps for a mile and it’s all flat.”
Over the years, Ericson has coached kids who have won county championships, some have gone on to run at the collegiate level. Since the club was founded, several middle schools have adopted cross country clubs that compete.
And as proud as Ericson is of the accomplishments of those kids, it’s the stories that don’t come with a gold medal that he’s found most rewarding from the coaching experience.
“It’s the kids who were slow, overweight runners when they first started out and now they’ve gotten better and improved greatly,” Ericson said. “Those are the stories I love to tell. I’ve coached kids that have won county meets, but it’s those other stories that matter the most.”
Where to run
There’s no lack of places to run in Forsyth County, but maybe you need a community to help get you motivated. No problem – here are some clubs you can jump right into.
North Georgia Running Co., hosts free bi-weekly runs/walks in different groups so runners/walkers can have a distance and pace that is right for them. Groups meet at 6:45 p.m., Tuesdays; 8 a.m., Saturdays and 8:10 a.m., Sundays at the store’s location at 5456 Bethelview Road and then proceed to the nearby Big Creek Greenway trailhead. Check the company’s Facebook and Instagram pages for the most updated information. For more information, visit northgeorgiarunningco.com.
Gotta Run Kids
The local youth running club is led by Greg Patterson and provides a variety of programs for kids, from kindergarteners up to eight grade, in addition to private coaching. For more information, visit gottarunkids.com.
Totally Happy Feet Run or Walk
Totally Running, a local company with locations on Peachtree Parkway and in Halcyon, the new mixed-use development in south Forsyth, hosts the “Totally Happy Feet Run or Walk” run/walk group at 6:30 p.m., every Thursday at its Halcyon location, 6345 Halcyon Way, Suite 820. For more information, visit totallyrunning.com.
Story by McClain Baxley for 400 Life.