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Bravo to the Pied Piper

Daily file photoThis is the closest thing we've ever witnessed when it comes to Battle Mountain cross country and track coach Rob Parish not being in a good mood. For the record, Parish was actually quite happy on the day of this photo. The Huskies boys cross country team had just obliterated the field at regionals in Delta last fall.
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I was at Battle Mountain track practice about two weeks ago, doing my rounds as a reporter.

I say track practice because there was no field. Phelan Field still had about 3 feet of snow on it, and the team’s coach Rob Parish joked with me that the white stuff was crimping his style when it came to dashing madly across the infield, yelling out splits.

The Huskies were doing ladder drills, running 200-, 300- and 400-meter intervals. On one of the 400 sprints, Parish told Tony Crisofulli, one of his top runners, to shoot for 67 seconds, “but go a little faster if you want.”

Crisofulli came around in 61, causing some of his teammates to shake their heads in wonder, but Parish kept on counting off the clock as the stragglers came home. As the last kid crossed the line, likely thanking whatever deity in which he believes that it was over, Parish was still yelling, “Good job.”

That is Parish in a nut shell.

As Battle Mountain soccer’s David Cope, the dean of the school’s coaches, has said succinctly whenever Parish has come up for an award ” Rob’s magic as a coach is that he has been able to build a program where runners like Crisofulli and others can reach their peak, while still making those who will never come close to running a 61-second 400 for kicks feel welcome as well.

And that is why, Parish, that you are rightly so appreciated in this community and why we all wish you well in your future two-year teaching gig in Trieste, Italy, and whatever your future ventures may entail.

When Parish left a message with me Friday morning making his departure official, he kept saying, “You really don’t need to do a story on this.”

Fat chance, Rob. The skeptic in me has always wondered if Parish sometimes goes home and kicks every piece of furniture he owns. No one can possibly be that energetic and upbeat as this guy seems during practices, meets and/or the seemingly mundane call-in to the paper when Parish always finds some delightful positive from some kid who managed a personal best to add to my ever-expanding story.

“Oh what a minute, Jimmy Jones just ran the 1,600 in a career-best 12:49. He gave it everything he had. He was the hero of the day.”

But that’s Parish.

If he has a fault, it’s modesty. That and liking the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Case in point ” Parish said Friday, “I hope I’ve left this program a little better than I found it.”

Umm, Rob, are you kidding? You yourself started in 2001 as the all-purpose running coach. How well were things going in cross country? Parish, you could count the number of runners you had on your fingers and toes in cross country. How about track and field? Not much better there.

As for the rest Battle Mountain athletics, with the exception of boys soccer and the new hockey team, the Huskies were athletic road kill at the time.

Parish certainly isn’t the only person involved in Battle Mountain’s athletic revival, but when your cross country teams have three state titles to their name and your track teams are winning regional titles, you are definitely leaving things better than you found them. If you have any doubts, go look at those three big pictures of those title-winning teams hanging in the entry way to the gym.

Time for some fun trivia, by the way. Battle Mountain’s last four male senior athletes have been on the guys’ 3,200 relay team. That’s Rob Finlay, Grant Stevenson. Connor Drumm and Travis Landauer. While Drumm certainly earned his spurs in other sports, it isn’t a coincidence that Parish coached them all. And I’ll bet serious 401(k) money that Jonny Stevens, yet another Parish prodigy, continues this trend this spring.

When I interviewed people Friday the thing which kept coming up was not only that Parish is “the Pied Piper of running,” attracting anyone and everyone to the sport, but also the impact that the coach has had on kids’ lives.

Grant’s mom, Lee, talked about how Parish changed her son’s life by getting him into running. If we may be allowed a Vail Daily in-house story, Stevenson is not the only one. Our former managing editor Don Rogers wanted his son, Ben aka Sparky, to compete in a sport his freshman year in the fall so that he would be ready to play basketball just like his old man come the winter months.

Ben went out for cross country in the fall of 2002 ” and instead of fulfilling Don’s hoop dreams ” kept running and Nordic skiing and running through assorted seasons, landing at Fort Lewis, where he’s an accomplished student-athlete.

Grant and Ben are just two of the people Parish has changed in his time here. I don’t have the official number yet because not all of his athletes have signed, but there are going to be a stunning number, by Eagle County’s standard, out of the Class of 2008 running in college in the future. That’s another tribute to Parish.

Parish lost a lot of sleep on whether to leave Battle Mountain for Italy because of the attachments he’s developed with his student-athletes, who reciprocate in kind. But honestly, as nice at living in Eagle County is, no one in their right mind would begrudge a guy for wanting to spend two years in Italy. In fact, the response I’ve heard from most people I’ve talked to about this is, “Can I come, too?”

Thanks for everything, Rob, and have a ball. Drop us a postcard once in a while and try not start a running team called the Trieste Canes Eschimeses while you’re there.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or cfreud@vaildaily.com.


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