Secret's out: Smooth running Camden Hills program enjoys athletic richesCoach Bonzi gets student-athletes to buy in to demands of distance running
Rockport — While many high school cross-country coaches struggle to attract student-athletes to the physically and emotionally demanding sport of long-distance running, Camden Hills' Helen Bonzi has an embarrassment of riches — and lots of hard-working team members.
And the Windjammers not only have plenty of runners — enough to field a handful of seven-runner teams — but Camden Hills possesses a wealth of depth and talent.
Camden Hills has 25 boys and 19 girls runners, with a few added or subtracted depending on a number of factors.
That is 44 overall participants for the Class B school.
By comparison, for example, the nearest Class B schools to Camden Hills, Belfast to the North and Oceanside and Medomak Valley to the South, have only a handful of runners among the girls and boys.
In fact, only the Belfast, Oceanside and Medomak Valley boys consistently have five runners to record team scores in meets.
The Belfast, Oceanside and Medomak Valley girls do not have five runners.
So what is Bonzi's secret? She steals from others, of course, and, in the end, inspires a large group of student-athletes to want to compete in a fun, highly-demanding, sometimes solitary sport — with a team vibe.
At meets attended by Camden Hills, a sea of red-and-white can be seen in the boys and girls races. And those Windjammer runners mostly fill slots from the top to the middle of the pack.
"My secret is thievery," Bonzi said. "My secret is to take all the very best practices of all the very best coaches I’ve had the opportunity to meet during my coaching career and implement them into my program. I’ll steal workouts, inspirational talks, fun games to play, fundraising techniques, team bonding ideas, anything to further the growth and positive experience of this team. I’d like to give credit and thanks to all those coaches with all their brilliant ideas."
Bonzi, who also coaches outdoor track and field at Camden Hills, said several years ago she had the "extraordinary opportunity" to volunteer as an assistant coach with Jim Morse, the respected head coach of the successful Camden-Rockport Middle School cross-country program, which also has a plethora of runners.
Bonzi calls Morse "a kid whisperer. He could get his kids to walk on hot coals if he asked. I’m lucky to get those rising ninth-grade students every year. They’re accustomed to working hard and striving to be the best cross-country runner they can be. I always say that the secret to the success of our team is because of Jim Morse and his outstanding coaching qualities."
Bonzi said she has a boatload of motivated student-athletes, all of whom want to succeed at any level they can achieve. And she will do what it takes to help them accomplish their goals.
"I take coaching as a serious profession and try to keep current with all the cutting information in training theory, sport science, injury prevention and sport psychology, to name a few," she said. "I’m working on my third Masters Endorsement in distance running with the US Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. They are a national association for high school and college level coaches. They offer the most advanced coaching educational classes based on the current science."
Bonzi who has teams that will challenge for league, regional and state titles, as well as individuals with the ability to win titles, said, "Even with everything I do to try to be prepared and knowledgeable, every day I cross my fingers for good luck, talk to everyone on the team, get to know them all really well, put my best foot forward and ask them to do the same, every day, and do it all over again, every day, all season long."
While there is plenty of hard work and high expectations, there is plenty of camaraderie and team building as well.
"I always say that this team is where all the cool kids hang out," Bonzi said. "They are all such great kids with tremendous hearts. They work hard, appreciate all their teammates, and have a ton of fun."
Thus, Bonzi has made running — something that is difficult and perhaps not the favorite activity of many — fun and the cool thing to do.
Too bad Bonzi's secret now is out.
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Ken Waltz has been member of the media 30 years and has received hundreds of Maine Press Association and New England Press Association awards for his writing, photography and page design. He studied journalism at the University of Maine in Orono. He lives in South Thomaston with his wife, Sarah. The couple has an adult son, Brandon.
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