JIM PETERS PREP BEAT: Wheeler christens school cross country course

2012-08-29T17:45:00Z 2012-08-30T04:14:13Z JIM PETERS PREP BEAT: Wheeler christens school cross country courseJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
August 29, 2012 5:45 pm  • 

The book, "The Go-Giver," is a story of an ambitious young businessman who learns that the secret to success isn't so much what you get as what you give, and the people whose lives you help in the process.

So what's the novel that Athletic Director Randy Stelter teaches at Wheeler High School have to do with cross country?

This is where Dwayne Greer, a Union Township farmer, enters the picture.

A few years back, the U.T. school corporation purchased 53 acres of undeveloped property on the north end of the campus from the Hodsden family, who also once owned the land on which the high school now sits.

Stelter asked administration if it could be used to put in a cross country course. He was told yes, with the caveat that they come to an agreement with Greer, who rented the property from the Hodsdens and now has the same arrangement with the school corporation.

"It made sense to me," Greer said. "I didn't realize they were struggling to find a place to run. It's a beautiful place to do it, and moving some of the trees was a benefit to them and me. I like playing with the tractor. There was a lot of space I could use (to farm) anyway."

With the input of Wheeler coaches Louie Guillen and Ben Kosal, the two got down to the business last spring of designing and carving out a 5,000-meter course on the grounds.

"It's a big job," Stelter said. "Not many schools own their own farm. It was a lot of fun but it took an awful lot of time trying to perfect it.

"We wanted to get it so we could coexist in the same area, form a partnership with Dwayne where he wasn't losing crops and money, and our kids could finally have a place to run after having to go to somebody else's course for 15 years."

The layout, which is in large part on the new property, starts behind the JV softball field and treks to the north border, where the site line includes a pond with wildlife.

Runners progress along side the soy beans (corn in alternating years) to the western edge and head south along that perimeter, then turn back toward the school.

"It gives the course a little natural ambiance, some character," Stelter said.

Races finish on the track, an idea Guillen got from Highland coach Carlos Aburto. Fans can see almost the entire run from the top of the stadium bleachers, except when the corn gets really tall.

"It's going to be good in time," Guillen said. "It needs some cosmetic work, but I don't mind doing a little landscaping.

"My pie in the sky dream is for it all to look like a fairway. For our kids, the seniors, it's special for them to have a place to call their own, a legacy for them to leave."

Wheeler runners trained on the course during the summer and the school held its first home race Tuesday. It will host the Greater South Shore Conference meet this fall and Stelter hopes to eventually put together an invitational.

"We're so grateful for all the work Dwayne's put in," Stelter said.

Which brings us back to the book.

"By becoming a giver is how you touch your community," Stelter said. "Dwayne's the epitome of that. Fifteen years ago, we had bleachers with 90 seats. Now we have this fine facility for our students-athletes, and it's all because we have a community with such a giving spirit that I'm so proud to be a part of."

This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

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