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Crook County High School race at ranch this Saturday; new coach leading runners

LON AUSTIN - A volunteer coach last year, Nate Ditton has become the new head coach of the Crook County High School cross country program.

The Crook County High School cross country team opens their season on Saturday at the Jere Breese Memorial Ranch Stampede, which will be held in Prineville on Saturday.

Races are expected to begin at 9 a.m., with both boys and girls high school races, a 2K kids run and a 5K open run.

Although the Ranch Stampede is the traditional start to the season for Crook County, the event did not happen a year ago due to COVID. Instead, the cross country team had a short fall season and then another short spring season.

Crook County has the same coaching staff they had a year ago. However, the coaches are not all in the same roles. Last year, Orie Gonzales was the head coach, while Greg Davy was the assistant coach and Chuck Coats and Nate Ditton were volunteer assistants.

The same four individuals are involved in the program, but Ditton is now the head coach. With a young family, Gonzales stepped back into an assistant role, while Ditton stepped into the head coach position.

"It feels pretty much the same except a few of the roles have changed," Ditton said. "I would be here anyway, running if I was a volunteer. It's something that I love to do and this is a natural outflow of that."

Ditton added that there are probably going to be some changes from last year, not so much because of the coaching changes, but because of the change in COVID rules.

"Last year was totally unlike anything we have ever done," he said. "Not only have I never seen a regular season happen at this school, the season that I wasa part of was totally split up. We were wearing masks when we were running 5K's so in a sense everything is changing. It's all in service of giving these kids a great experience — in the name of getting people to come to love running."

Ditton added that the team has seen an increase in the number of athletes participating in the summer running program and have seen a good turnout of freshmen.

"It's very encouraging to see," he said of the turnout. "They have all these excuses to not be out here because of the setbacks that we have seen in the last year, but they still are resilient and they still show up every day, so that's pretty cool."

Ditton added that as a new head coach he is pleased with the support he has received from the rest of the coaching staff, the administration and the community.

"Everyone surrounding the program is amazing support," he said. "Put the focus of attention on the other people because that is what makes the program work."

Saturday's race will be a good yardstick for where the program is this year. Several key runners graduated from last year's program, and the team is fairly young. In addition, the Ranch Stampede is not a normal cross country race. With multiple water hazards and a climb to the top of the rimrock, the race is anything but ordinary. The challenge may lead to slower than normal times, but will still give a good indication of how the team is doing.

Ditton noted that, so far, a transfer to the school, Gavin Humphries, is leading the way in practice, but that everyone is working hard.

He added that those interested in the open race can enter on the day of the race with a $15 entry fee. Varsity and JV girls open the racing day at 9 a.m. with the boys race at 9:40 a.m. and the open race at 10 a.m. The 2K kids race will follow, with a barbecue lunch and awards following the final race.

The Breese ranch is one mile east of Prineville on Highway 26.

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