With local legend William Calvert leading the way, St. Bernard’s campus is already home to some of the fastest prep athletes the state has to offer.
Calvert and Co. have had to make room for much more speed this week, however, welcoming 80 runners from around the region to the monastery’s cozy confines for the Wide Open Cross Country Camp. The North Carolina-based outfit arrived in town on Monday and will stick around until Friday, using active-learning exercises and highly decorated guest speakers to provide participants with a “premium running camp experience.”
“It’s a tremendous resource,” Calvert said. “Rather than having to drive eight hours to one of the North Carolina camps — they have several up there, and they’re excellent — this is the only camp of this sort in the state of Alabama and Mississippi. We’re very fortunate to have this type of instruction right in our backyard.”
This is the fourth year director Taylor Narewski and his father, head coach Stan Narewski, have held the camp, but the first the duo has expanded outside North Carolina. Calvert has known the elder Narewski for about 18 years since Stan’s time atop Wallace State’s program — which has since disbanded — and has sent numerous athletes to the camp over the years, serving as the perfect bridge for the Narewskis to explore St. Bernard as a second location. When Calvert started talking up the Saints’ expansive trails during a short trip last summer — as did camp counselor, Cold Springs graduate and Mississippi State runner Nathan Lewis — no other convincing was necessary.
Those trails were tested by heavy rain and a lightning storm on Tuesday afternoon, forcing the heaps of teenagers into the St. Bernard gymnasium for biomechanic, sprint, form and core drills. There, Stan took the spotlight, playfully but effectively educating the kids about how to succeed on the course and in all walks of life.
When Stan talked, the runners listened — as they should have considering his wealth of experience. In addition to Stan’s 12-year stop at Wallace State, he also coached at Auburn, Florida, Clemson, Kansas, Furman and Murray State, teaching more than 300 All-Americans and 12 Olympians while racking up five National Coach of the Year awards.
Since leaving the Lions, Stan has worked as the executive director of planned and major gifts for the University of West Alabama, his alma mater.
“I really think that what they’re getting here is world-class training,” Taylor said of his father’s instruction. “They’re getting some of this training now as young runners, and this is stuff that he’s worked on with collegiate and sometimes world-class athletes.”
The treasure trove of counselors doesn’t stop with the Narewskis. Cold Springs’ Lewis has had his hand in the camp, as has former Cullman High standout E.C. Gibbs, Taylor’s roommate at Georgia Tech and the scheduled featured guest speaker for Thursday.
Being taught by such quality counselors wasn’t lost on St. Bernard senior Logan Ayers, who went to North Carolina last year and will again Aug. 5-9 after completing the weeklong experience on her home campus.
“Since there’s so many different people here from so many different places, they all give us their input and their experience,” she said. “Since we have coach (Stan) Narewski, who’s been coaching for years, he knows what he’s talking about. The fact he can pass that knowledge onto us is priceless.”
The Wide Open camp has grown from just 32 registrants its first year to 80 this week, and at least 120 are expected to take in next month’s North Carolina session. Defending Class 5A champion Homewood brought its entire squad this week, while runners from places like Daphne, T.R. Miller, Mississippi and Savannah, Ga., were also represented. As far as local schools were concerned, St. Bernard, Cullman, Cold Springs and Fairview had strong showings.
That team aspect of the camp is important to Taylor, who said he makes sure time is taken out of each week to sit down with squads and iron out goals and plans for the upcoming season. Individual participants and groups of two or three aren’t left out, either, as they’re given the opportunity to break off and speak with counselors ranging from collegiate runners, high school standouts and post-collegiate competitors.
“We really value having quality counselors to be around the kids throughout the week,” Taylor said. “To be an example, to lead their runs and then to just kind of be here, be able to answer questions and rub off on them.”
Additionally, what Taylor felt sets his camp apart from others in the region is a de-emphasis on high-mileage counts. While many of his North Carolina rivals crank out 10-12 miles a day, Taylor’s approach is far less demanding — yet doesn’t appear to be any less effective.
“We really place an emphasis on learning and teaching,” he said. “They get good training, but they go home having learned some stuff and they’re not worn out. You can’t make your season in a week.”
That last sentiment rang true to Ayers, who saw last summer’s commitment to a strong training schedule pay off in the form of a dazzling junior campaign. The Saint senior has been working just as hard this summer and hopes it will carry over to the course once again with the upcoming season right around the corner.
“Summer training, like building a base before the season, is definitely one of the more important things that you can possibly do,” Ayers said. “Because without proper training beforehand, that leads to easier injuries, you can overwork yourself during the season and you just won’t be able to do as good as you possibly can.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.