NOEL SCHUCH IS changing courses.
After seven years as coach of the Hammond girls cross country team, Schuch is turning her focus to her five-mont-old daughter, Stella. Ed Prytherch, a veteran track and cross country coach who has been an assistant with the Skyhawks, will take over the program when preseason practice begins in earnest.
But for the remainder of the summer, Schuch is the leader of the Skyhawks’ state championship pack.
“I think we’re all in a little bit of denial,” said Schuch, who leads the team on conditioning runs several days a week in her Shandon neighborhood. Schuch coached the Skyhawks to a fourth consecutive SCISA Class 3A championship last season, but could not run with them because of her pregnancy. Even that was a difficult adjustment to make.
“That’s always been hard for me, because running has been such a big part of my life and because I love my girls. I always wondered when it was going to be a good time to have kids,” she said. “Last season I just came to the realization that it is never going to be easy.”
She is sure that her runners, led by seniors Mason Castles and Margaret Deans-Fawcett, do not feel abandoned.
“They are both from families of six so I know that at least they understand how important it is to make that time for your family,” Schuch said.
Though she looks forward to the time she can spend with Stella, Schuch is still reluctant to dissolve the coach-athlete bond.
“I’ll keep a careful watch on them. They know where I am and I’m sure they will come and see me if they need me, and they know that I will still help them with anything that I can,” she said.
Schuch’s summer runs with a dozen or so Skyhawks are the most active involvement she may have this season.
“My commitment to them was to get them in good shape for the season, and I have just promised the girls that I will be as involved as I can,” she said. Schuch will continue with the Skyhawks informally as an assistant coach, and will teach many of the younger runners in her seventh-grade classroom.
“This year, we’ve got quite a few new additions, a lot of seventh graders out, so the dynamic has changed a little bit.”
Schuch has seen the squad through that phase before. Now, as Prytherch takes over the duties this season, Schuch has her own adjustment phase.
Though she is giving up coaching, Schuch has not given up running. But she has had to adapt.
“I have a baby jogger, but it’s hard with that thing because you can’t use your arms, or you have to do it with one arm,” she said. “We can’t do very fun courses because of the hills, but we will work it out.”
And she is confident that, even without her at the head of the pack, the Skyhawks are on course for another championship season.