Meet the CCHS Cross Country Team


Brandon Kim, Copy Editor

It’s a December evening; Wednesday, six o’clock. Runners and their families have already begun trickling into Culver City High School’s cafeteria for an end-of-the-year tradition that usually doesn’t start until ten past six, and is often cut all too short by eight. 

At one end of the room sits a long row of tables, bustling with parent-volunteers and laden with heaping bowls of pasta and salad. Most of the faces are recognizable to the runners; they’ve been invaluable in organizing and helping out with team events, and this night likely would likely not exist without their help. Fittingly, two of them will be honored with a bouquet and a short speech by night’s end.

The speech will be made by coach Steven Heyl, who in his years alongside coaches Tom Fritzius, Faheem Chunara, and son Robert Heyl has been instrumental in guiding one of CCHS’s most intriguing sports. In fact, with over a hundred students among its still-swelling ranks, cross country is one of the most sneakily popular in the school – a fact that puzzles given the ligament-tearing, muscle-straining nature of competitive running. 

However, it might be in this very nature of cross country that many students find their desire to keep running. Varsity runner Garrett LaPalm shrugs when asked about his motivation for joining the team: “I like cross country because I like to compete. To run against myself; my teammates; other teams. It’s painful, but I put in the work.”

LaPalm had first picked up the sport just two-and-a-half years prior, running three miles in 19:30. Now, as a junior, he owns a personal record that’s one of the fastest on the team, at 16:22. 

Tonight, he’s crammed in along with the varsity and JV boys at their usual 10-15 person table in the corner of the room. There’s a strong measure of camaraderie among these boys, and when the coaching staff calls runners to receive their yearly awards, they will be the source of the most raucous cheers.

This solidarity is reflective of a much larger quality of the team – one that’s been remarked upon by several students, including popular varsity captain Sam Schuette, who’ll draw the loudest cheers. “I’ve realized how close of a family the team is,” Schuette says. “Ever since I was a shy freshman, I’ve felt welcomed and comfortable with plenty of great friends and teammates around me.”

It’s an environment that encourages countless runners to continue the sport in spite of the aches and pains, or less-than-encouraging times. Runners like LaPalm, who credits his success to encouraging teammates that always hold him accountable. Runners like Schuette, who has similarly embraced the pain of running and in the process achieved growth not only as a runner, but as a human being.

“I learned that my performance depends on my willingness to work hard,” he says.

Not to mention runners like Lucas Fite and Ryan Washizaki, who’ll receive the mantle of captains for the 2020-2021 school year. Fite says he plans to do the same for their peers that Schuette and Martinez did for them – he says, “I want to make sure that every runner on the team feels welcomed and has the proper training needed to bring out results.”

But that’s talk for next year. Now’s the time for one last meal before season’s end – one last banquet with teammates and friends alike.