The Lombardi of Teen Running

Kevin Hilliker:

In all of sports, few leaders are more accomplished than Bill Aris, a high school cross-country coach in suburban Syracuse, N.Y.

It isn’t just that his teams have won nine national titles in nine years, including sweeping the boys’ and girls’ competitions last weekend at the Nike Cross Nationals. It’s that Aris coaches at a public school, Fayetteville-Manlius High, meaning that he can’t recruit outside its modest-sized district.

Also, his teams usually lack superstars. No runner of his ever finished first at nationals. Last weekend, his fastest girl finished 11th—but her teammates finished 12th, 13th, 14th and 20th, giving their squad the team title.

“There’s something special going on at that program, for it to win year after year,” says Bob Larsen, a former UCLA cross-country coach who now coaches professional stars such as Meb Keflezighi.