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Prep Zone: Emerald Ridge cross country team line dancing their way to victory

In this week's Prep Zone, Chris Egan tracked down a high school cross country team that's kicking off their Sunday shoes before each race.

PUYALLUP, Wash. — Emerald Ridge's Jay Bates has been coaching cross country for five years.

“There’s no timeouts in cross country. You can’t get to the point where you say, 'I need to rest for a second,' you have to push through that and persevere,” explained Bates.

Running is in the family. Bates’ son, Conner, ran for Pacific Lutheran University and his daughter, Emma, currently runs at Whitworth.

“What I love about cross country, you are never going to get a parent asking for more playing time,” said Bates.

Under Bates’ leadership, the Emerald Ridge cross-country team has become a legit state contender over the past few years. The girl’s team has made it to state the past two years, and the boy's team raced at the state championship in Pasco, Washington, three years ago.

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“He’s really energetic. He always lifts us up as a coach. He always pushes us. He always brings out the best in us,” said senior Hannah Scheerer.

“There is a high amount of stress before a race. The gun is ready to go off, and they are standing on the line, and you don’t know what is going to happen, and you get kids that are not comfortable with that, and anxiety can kind of spin out of control. What we got to do is figure out how to remind kids that this is fun,” said Bates.

In the world of running, it's usually how you finish a race that matters the most, but that's not the case at Emerald Ridge. Coach Bates has started up a prerace ritual that not only draws attention from others, but he believes it puts his runners in a physical and mental state to go run their best.

"We get off the bus and the first thing we do is set up our dance," explained Bates.

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Before each race, the Jags loosen up with a line dance to Footloose, and yes, Coach “Kevin Bacon” Bates leads the way.

"We are getting that blood flow through the legs and it doesn't feel like you are warming up, and so it reduces that stress for kids,” said Bates.

The kids on the team said the dance helps bring them closer together and it’s something that makes the team unique. The athletes are loose, together, and having fun.

“It’s something you feel in your heart and your soul, and whether you are good or not, you own it,” said Bates.

On Wednesday, October 16, at the Tacoma Twilight cross country meet at Lincoln High School, Emerald Ridge runners Roz Slichko and Hannah Scheerer finished first and second in a field of 70 girls.