Middle school pair runs all the way to state

One of the two prefers soccer. The other can't get enough running.


Difference of opinion didn't stop the Monticello Middle School duo of Brent Buffenbarger and Alex Helmuth from finishing in the top 50 runners at the state cross-country meet at Maxwell Park in Normal on Oct. 13.
Buffenbarger placed 32nd out of 182 runners while Helmuth finished 44th.


“Brent and Alex have been the top two runners for our team the past two years,” coach Christine Dickerson said. “Both of the boys take great pride and passion in the sports and not only train during the season, but during the offseason as well.”


The race didn't come without adversity for the young Sages runners. Heavy storms passed through the area in the morning, delaying the race for over two hours.


“Talk about sports psychology,” Dickerson said.


“It was fun,” Helmuth said. “It was muddy, you had mud all over your shoes so that kind of slowed you down. But it was a fun experience.”


Buffenbarger and Helmuth developed quite the bond after logging all those miles in preparation for an opportunity like this.


"I was really happy (Brent made it to state)," Helmuth said. "I wanted him to make it last year and he was so close."


“At practices we run together all the time and at meets we try to stay with each other the whole race,” Buffenbarger said. “It makes us go way faster, I think.”


But the running partners face a split next fall when Buffenbarger moves on to high school. The eighth-grader said he'll stick with his preferred sport of choice (soccer) while Helmuth, only a seventh-grader, has his eyes on joining the high school cross-country team in a a couple years.


“Cross-country is my sport,” Helmuth said. “It is a team sport, but it's my race and I like that a lot.”


Dickerson said the success of the high school team has influenced the numbers at the middle school level, but this year is different.


“I know in the past we had many younger siblings of high school runners, so the high school team did have a larger impact,” she said. “This year though I have witnessed a change that many of the middle school runners did not know the success of the high school team.


“I believe that a majority of the sixth grade runners come out because it is a way to make friends and get acclimated with middle school. They hate running at first, but by the middle of the season when they start seeing changes and realizing they can push themselves to new distances while setting and beating personal records, the athletes start to enjoy the challenges of cross-country.”


Buffenbarger said his favorite part of the race is the end, but not why you may think.


"I just really like finishing the races," he said. "I feel the best and I'm most excited after the race."

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