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Nighthawk Runners Benefited From Unusual 16-Captain Arrangement



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Most sports teams have two or three captains. Then again, most do not have 60-plus participants.

With Newtown High School’s boys’ cross country team an inclusive squad that this past fall featured 63 runners, a coaching staff of two certainly would have had its work cut out managing the group if not for the decision to go with 16 — yes, you heard right, 16 — captains.

Head Coach Carl Strait and Assistant Coach Jen Marden utilized the leadership of a large group of captains to help organize stretching sessions, warmups, and communicate with the team during the fall season — a successful one for the Nighthawks that extended into early November with a qualification for the State Open.

“It was a great way for every single kid to connect with somebody,” Strait said of the numerous captain arrangement, adding that the team held friendly competitions within practices, giving each captain-led group a chance to earn bragging rights on any given day.

“I think it kept them interested and motivated from day one,” Strait said.

Max Bloomquist, Arav Dave, Tucker Depuy, Max Hanson, Trey Hazard, Nick Jacobs, Dan Keogler, Jack Kuligowski, Zack Masone, Owen Meeker, Keenan Murphy, Nihal Nawaz, Sean Roche, Will Tainter-Gilbert, Jack Wojtowicz, and Jake Pare were captains on this year’s squad.

Each captain was assigned a handful of runners for warmups, stretching, and communication about such things as practice times.

“It was good to get to know my kids more,” said Hanson, one of the Nighthawks who raced in the Open, along with Jacobs, Max Bloomquist, Tainter-Gilbert, Drew Poseno, Kuligowski, and DJ Bobowick.

Think of how tough it is to get the attention of a group.

“When it’s four people trying to talk to 60 people, it’s definitely hard to make sure everybody’s getting information,” Hazard points out.

One person talking to four or five — now that stands a much better chance of full attention and everybody being on the same page. What’s more, the smaller groups have the new team members a better opportunity to approach team leaders, especially from the onset.

“It definitely made it easier for the younger kids to communicate with the captains,” Jacobs said of the benefit of having so many captains.

The captain-led groups broke up and new groups of runners formed for training based on abilities and running times.

Having captains in charge of several runners made for more opportunity to learn or use leadership skills and allowed for better connections with teammates. This year, the Nighthawks had 24 new runners, but the 16-captain setup ensured they weren’t lost in the mix.

“Because we had such small groups, we got to know our kids really well,” Pare said. “It was a lot of fun.”

The Nighthawks were strong on the courses this year, finished runner-up to New Milford in the South-West Conference championship race, placed tenth in the Class LL state championships, and earned 17th among all of top runners in the state at the Open. All of these accomplishments, and the biggest achievement — in Strait’s eyes — was how the team came together. And that was in large part a product of the captain strategy.

“I think the greatest success of our season was the work our captains and non-captains did together to ensure 60 kids felt like it was a smaller team,” Strait said.

Max Hanson runs the race.
Nick Jacobs, right, edged New Fairfield’s Patrick Gibbons to win the race, in Newtown, on September 10.
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