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Cross-country promotes exercise, confidence and team spirit
Katie Stalter

A group of Miriam high school students learned the value of hard work, exercise and team spirit this fall, participating in cross-country under the mentorship of former Miriam teacher Jeron Merritt. 

The team represented Miriam throughout the community, as they competed in a variety of 5K races – and in some cases ranking quite high. “I am so proud of this team,” Merritt said. “They grew so much during the season, and I can see their increase in confidence.”

Merritt said he’s a strong believer in the value of high school athletics, and he’s glad to be able to coach this Miriam team. “Athletics are so vital to students’ growth. They have the opportunity to learn a sport, value being part of a team, and build their self-esteem and confidence,” he said. “I encourage them to work hard and value their health.”

Michael, a Miriam sophomore and a member of the cross-country team, said he has been part of cross-country and track teams in the past. “I really like running,” he said. “It’s good for my brain and my body.”

Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard professor and neuropsychiatry expert, backs up what Merritt and Michael say about the benefits of exercise, adding that its effect on learning is also significant. In his research, Ratey has found that students who exercise regularly not only are more fit, but also receive higher test scores.

“There are so many studies showing that exercise improves what’s called our executive functions, which is how we remember, plan, predict, and evaluate consequences,” Ratey said ( “And now, we have studies showing that it makes us more creative.”

In fact, Ratey said, exercise has been found to both promote the growth of brain cells and speed up our ability to make brand new ones. It increases the size of both the frontal cortex and the hippocampus portions of the brain. 

High School Principal Vicki Thurman said she is so happy Miriam is able to offer this program to our students, and she hopes the skills the team members have gained become life-long skills. Plus, it was fun and gratifying for the teens. “I know all of the students enjoyed participating in both practices and the 5Ks,” Thurman said. “And seeing the smiles of the students after the last race was so rewarding.” 

Merritt said the team wasn’t quite ready this year to compete in the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHAA), so they entered 5Ks throughout the St. Louis area. 

Michael said he loved running in the 5Ks, surrounded by people. “I felt like I was part of a big, giant community.”

Merritt said the 5Ks will prepare them to potentially join MSHAA in the future, and he’s already looking forward to coaching the spring cross-country team.

"I observed so many changes in the kids during the season,” he said. “They seem to be more confident, happy and seem to support each other. We’ll keep building this team and helping them be successful.”


Take a Twirl

How do we help our kids gain confidence in trying something new? I think it is shifting from celebrating the final product, whether it is an art project or a final grade, to celebrating the steps it took for your child to get to the end of the process.

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