‘Massegon’: Cross country runners build new bonds of cross-continental friendship

November 2018 Posted in School, Sports
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JFK sisters, Alejandra and Whitney Lopez, with Massegon co-founder, Coach Steve McChesney. Steve Ritchie

By Steve Ritchie

The Kennedy High School Cross Country Team
has been known for incorporating opportunities for learning and new experiences when traveling to compete in meets.

The past two seasons, for example, the team has traveled to Ashland to compete in a race and take in plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Summer running camps at places like Mt. Hood and Lake Tahoe have included training in map and compass reading, wilderness etiquette and trail maintenance.

In early October, through the support of the school district and the Mount Angel community, the team was able to travel a little farther this season – all the way across the country to compete in the Massegon Invitational in Weston, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb. Created last year by brothers Steve and Ken McChesney, who coach at Newton South High School in Massachusetts and Veritas School in Newberg, Oregon, respectively, the meet’s purpose is to build a bond of friendship between high school runners in Massachusetts and Oregon – hence the title, “Massegon,” combining the state names.

In late 2017 Kennedy was invited by the two brothers to be the Oregon representative at the meet in 2018. As soon as the Kennedy team heard about the invitation the response was an overwhelming, “Let’s go!,” giving the coach no option but to start planning and begin raising the $8,000+ needed to make the trip.

Aided by generous donations from the Mt. Angel Booster Club, the Mt. Angel Chamber of Commerce, and the Silverton Runners Club, the team helped at road runs and community celebrations, sold root beer floats and pies, and team parents put on a benefit poker night. In the end, the money was raised to pay for 14 students and two coaches to make the trip. They were joined by three parents, a grandparent, and a former foreign exchange student who paid their own way.

For more than half of the team it was their initial airplane flight, and for all their first time on the East Coast. Going to Boston offered the chance to tour the Freedom Trail, the Longfellow House, Harvard, MIT, and many sites around Lexington and Concord.

“The North Bridge (in Concord) was one of my favorite parts,” senior Alejandra Lopez said. “Right next to the bridge and the statue there’s a huge field and I could just see how it was during the Revolutionary War.”

Sophomore Michael Savage agreed.

“It was really fun and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “A totally new experience, not something I would usually do. I really liked all the battlefields and the historic sites, something we don’t have a lot of here. And the people there were great, especially the family I stayed with. They were really nice.”

A memorable part of the experience for the JFK kids was being hosted by families of eight different Newton South and Weston cross country runners during the trip. Two other families hosted pre-race and post-race dinners for kids from all of the teams and the adult visitors from Oregon.

Alejandra and Whitney Lopez stayed with Coach Steve McChesney and family and quickly bonded with the renowned coach, who along with late brothers Bill and Tom, and younger brother Ken and parents Bill and Marcia, have long been considered one of Oregon’s greatest distance running families.

“I miss him and his wife and kids,” Whitney said. “They were honestly the sweetest people ever – they gave us their rooms and slept in the basement.”

The feelings were reciprocal. Steve McChesney said, “We loved every moment of hosting. The (Kennedy) kids were super in every way.  They were so easy to host and tour with because they are all so wonderful and full of great cheer… We all gained new friends.”

While the trip was full of activities and touring, there was also a race involved. Despite the long travel, time difference and sporadic eating and sleeping, the Kennedy team performed very well in the Saturday morning meet at Burchart Park in Weston. Nine JFK athletes recorded season-best times on the beautiful, wooded course. Alejandra Lopez won the varsity girls race by over a minute, and Kennedy junior Luke Hall was runner-up in the varsity boys race, just one second behind the winner.

“They did such a great job of getting the most out of the trip while staying focused on running very well at our meet,” Coach McChesney said. “The fact that they had a really good meet this far away and a bit tired says a lot about their character.”

The atmosphere at the “friendship meet” perfectly reflected the genuine warmth and generosity the Mount Angel group experienced throughout their stay, as spectators and athletes from other schools cheered just as hard for the Kennedy runners as they did for their
own runners.

“Oh my gosh, that was my favorite meet by far,” Alejandra Lopez said. “Even people from other teams were cheering for us.”

“It melted my heart,” her sister added.

Steve Ritchie is a correspondent for Our Town. He has been the Kennedy HS Cross Country head coach for 21 years.

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