By Chris Welch
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Westminster Christian Academy.
Oh, in so many ways.
Westminster Christian is celebrating its 50th year as a co-educational Christian school in Huntsville, and what better way to do that than win a state championship. The boys cross country team won its first-ever Class 3A championship in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s (AHSAA) state meet. It was held recently at the Indians Mounds State Park near Moulton.
The Wildcats got a 2-3 finish from Ryan Ford and senior co-captain Cameron Sullivan and placed five runners in the Top 15 to win its first state championship since joining the AHSAA in 1992-93. Ford ran a time of 16 minutes, 48.30 seconds followed by Sullivan in 16:52.50. Westminster blasted pre-meet favorite Cottage Hill Christian 34-120 to win the championship.
Also making the Top 15 for Westminster and All-State were Alex Gipson, ninth, in 17:13.90; senior co-captain Eric Farmer, 12th, in 17:17.90 and Ethan Gray in 17:23.30.
“I am overjoyed for the runners, they invested so much time and work building not only their bodies for running, but each other up as a team,” Justin Huston, who coached the team with Marty Clarke, said.
“Coach Clarke has been amazing building this program and teaching these boys how to run and how to live well. This team has been like family to me and I thank God I have been able to watch them finish strong.”
The Wildcats just missed out on a state championship in 2012, falling to Catholic of Montgomery 54-68, and Clarke, a competitive local runner himself, said the boys made the commitment to go all the way this year. The team gained momentum week by week, winning meets at Buckhorn, Madison Academy, Arab, Jesse Owens – one of the largest meets in the Southeast – and Athens Bible along with runnerup finishes at Bob Jones and Scottsboro. The boys won the AHSAA Sectional for the fifth time with a perfect score of 15, and that’s when Huston saw something special that had nothing to do with the scoreboard.
“Our boys have been competitive, even with each other all year,” Huston said, “I was watching our top two boys finish at sectionals and saw the first turn to the second, who had begun to hang his head for not coming in first. He grabbed him in the shoot, told him to hold his head high and turned him to see the rest of his team finish, saying ‘Look, look what we’ve done.’
“I knew at that point they were ready for state and deserving of the title because they knew the value of putting each other first.”
Added Clarke, “They worked very hard over the summer and into the fall to achieve this goal.”
The state title is especially meaningful for Huston, who has coached the team for six years. In January, he will leave for a three-year mission trip to South Sudan in Africa.