The Long Run Home

Published 9:10 pm Monday, September 19, 2011

Austin cross country runners Nate Schwab, left, and Gabe Ramirez, right, hold the football that they will be running from Mankato to Austin this week for the Homecoming football game. The football has been ran from schools all around the Big Nine since 2003. -- Rocky Hulne/

As Austin high school students celebrate homecoming this week, the Austin cross country team is preparing for its longest run of the season.

As they have done for the past eight years, the Packers boys and girls will run a football from Austin’s homecoming opponent back to Austin. For the last few years and this year, that distance is a long one as the Packers are playing the Mankato East football team Friday at 7 p.m. at Art Hass Stadium

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Despite some rumors to the contrary, the cross country team will be running that 90-mile trek over three days.

“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t think we actually do it,” Austin senior cross country runner Gabe Ramirez said. “They think we’re just saying it, but we actually run the football from there. That’s what we do.”

A total of 19 Austin runners will split the distance with some of the better runners covering chunks of up to 23 miles over the three-day run.

Austin has a meet on Tuesday, so it can’t begin the journey until Wednesday. On that day, two vans full of team members will head out to Mankato East high school after school and the runners will rotate one at a time and cover as much ground as they can before it gets dark. The team will repeat that approach on Thursday and on Friday the runners will leave Austin at 7:30 a.m. and run the remaining distance all day with the intent of reaching the homecoming ceremony in time to get the ball to the football team.

There have been times in the past where the runners have had to do splits of 200-meter dashes to keep the pace.

Once they arrive in Austin, stepping on the podium is the highlight for the squad.

“The last day is pretty awesome because you get to go up on the stage and it means you finished a ninety mile run,” Austin senior cross country runner Nate Schwab said. “It’s a tradition we hope keeps going.”

The tradition is also held at Owatonna, Stewartville and Rochester Mayo and it used to include taking a football from the visiting school. But that ended in the first year for Austin when the team went to take a football from Mayo’s practice and a confusion interrupted the Spartans’ practice time.

Since then, Austin has always used the same football every year.

The Packers team members will combine for about 16 hours of running on the trip. They will also see some roads they’ve probably never seen before as it’s not safe to run down I-90 with a football tucked under your arm.

“We take a lot of random back roads from Mankato to here and we find our way back to Austin somehow,” Schwab said.

With all that time on the road, the team can’t help but bond together and Austin head coach Tony Einertson said the experience has always been a good one for his team.

“It’s all about having fun and the kids are usually cheering each other on during the run,” he said.

While the long miles and long day on Friday can be draining, the cross country team is glad to chip in to the homecoming festivities.

“We’re just putting in our part for homecoming week and a little support for the Packers,” Ramirez said.

There is always a van behind the runner carrying the football for safety purposes and a second van awaits at the checkpoint where the runners will switch.