How Do Cross-Country Traditions Run? 

Photo by Madelyn Marthouse

     The sky is dark, and a group of athletes run around a field on UNH campus, sneaking behind trees, calling for their teammates, and trying not to get tagged by the other team. Everyone is smiling and laughing, enjoying their time with the rest of the team. The Oyster River cross-country team is playing capture the flag the night after a long meet, one of the many traditions within the team. 

     The Oyster River cross-country team has undergone many major changes since COVID, like the boys’ and girls’ teams combining, and the team receiving a new coach. All these changes have created a shift in the team’s culture, which has caused many of the old traditions to be lost or to evolve into something new, something that is slowly being welcomed by the teams’ athletes. 

     This year, the Oyster River cross-country team became co-ed. Most of the runners see this as beneficial and think that it is improving the culture of the team. Many cross-country athletes in the past have liked to look at both boys and girls as one big team, and they think that bringing the boys and girls together has really improved the culture. Henry Hagen (‘23), one of the boys’ captains, has noticed this. “I think the team being co-ed is great because we really are one cross-country team.” 

     Nicole Toye, one of the two co-coaches for the team, has also been enjoying seeing the guys and girls getting along. “On the bus [to the meets] my past three years it was always like ‘girls get the front and boys get the back,’ and it was always split up and now it’s like nobody asks, they just all sit co-ed.”  

     One thing expected from combining the boys’ and girls’ teams was that the teams would have to adopt traditions for the full group. Toye has seen how some of the athletes are less than happy about that. “I know from the girls’ perspective, some of the traditions they like to do, they want to keep to themselves.” 

     Kelly Zhang (‘23), one of the girls’ team captains, is an athlete who doesn’t mind sharing traditions. “I really like how we’re coming together as one Oyster River cross-country team instead of boys’ team and girls’ team.” She has noticed that the culture this year seems more positive and tight knit and places part of that on the combination of teams. 

     The team may be co-ed this year, but there is still a separation. This year the team was split into two different groups. The A group consists of the varsity and faster JV athletes, and the B group is everyone else. This caused a big divide in the team, and many athletes think it is affecting many of the team traditions. Joey Hannon (‘24), who’s been on the team for three years, has noticed how the team is divided. “I feel like it’s gone from the boys are a team and the girls are a team, to varsity is a team and JV is a team.” Hannon thinks that the team divide is the reason some of the traditions are starting to go away. “Some of it is that the team is divided into entirely different schedules”  

     Hagen has also noticed how the team seems divided into two separate parts this year and thinks the best way to bring the A and B together is at spags. “Just making sure people feel comfortable and welcome at spags is a huge part of it.”  

     Toye has observed how the team is divided this year but thinks her job as a coach is to help the athletes improve and not as much to make traditions happen. “I think to kind of bring the team together is really something that I look to the captains and the upperclassmen to do.”  

     The A and B group is causing some separation between the team and the traditions, but the team is still managing to hold some of these customs. Before COVID and starting again this year, the team practiced many important bonding opportunities. Some of these include spags (spaghetti dinners) before every meet, capture the flag, which is played after almost every meet, and “secret bobcat” (a girls team tradition), where everyone on the team has to give a random person on the team a secret gift with a note. Nick Ricciardi, the new co-coach, mentions how it would be fun, although sort of cheesy, to include the boys in secret bobcat as well. 

     Zhang explains how the spags typically work. “At spags we just generally do silly stuff, so there’s not really any specific traditions tied to it, just whatever happens at the spag happens.”  

     During COVID, many of the original cross-country traditions weren’t allowed, like the spags and capture the flag. However, now that all the COVID restrictions have been lifted, the team can participate in all the previous traditions. The question now is whether the team should lose any potentially negative traditions. One thing often debated about is whether traditions are always healthy for a team. Ricciardi thinks traditions are beneficial. “If they’re healthy and people are on board with them, and not because they feel like they have to be.” 

     Hagen feels similarly and thinks that, for a tradition, everybody should be willing to do it and enjoy it. “If a tradition is making people uncomfortable, or something that isn’t really helping the team culture then it doesn’t need to be part of the team.”  

     The newest cross-country “tradition” is to work out with the whole team before school once a week. Toye thinks the team members have a love-hate relationship with this new “tradition” but knows it’s beneficial for the whole team. “I think having that camaraderie of getting up when it’s dark and all working out together and knowing that you’re up before probably all your competitors and doing a workout as a team, I think there’s definitely value in that.” 

     This year, like most other years, the Oyster River cross-country team has many new athletes and traditions, but everyone on the team is looking forward to the new direction the team is going. Hagen is confident the direction the team is going is positive. “I really am excited to see what the team becomes.”

-Micah Bessette