Huskies’ Parish taking leave of absence
EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado ” Battle Mountain head cross country and track coach Rob Parish is saying arrivederci “for now.
The accomplished coach announced Thursday that he is leaving Battle Mountain at the end of the school term for two years to teach at an international school in Trieste, Italy. Parish told his runners at practice Thursday, and then notified Battle Mountain’s administration Friday.
“The toughest part of the whole process was telling the kids,” Parish said. “I honestly had it my plans to tell them for a few days, but had trouble finding the words. I told them (Thursday) and all the kids were fantastic and supportive. They reacted like a friend would.”
Parish came to Eagle County in 2001, teaching science at Berry Creek Middle School for three years, followed by the last four at Battle Mountain. In the process, he took over the Huskies’ cross country and track programs. While he doesn’t rank in tenure with some of the county’s best-known high school coaches like Eagle Valley football’s John Ramunno or Battle Mountain soccer’s David Cope, Parish’s impact has been tremendous.
With the school moving up to Class 4A in 2000, Battle Mountain’s cross country and track teams were struggling woefully. In the last seven years, the harriers have won three state championships ” the girls in 2005, followed by the boys in 2006 and 2007 ” while the track program is now sending athletes to the state meet annually.
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“It’s a huge loss,” Battle Mountain athletic director Rich Houghton said. “I sent him an e-mail today that it’s going to be hard to fill his shoes.
“It’s been amazing what he’s done. I often hear some athletes say to his runners, ‘You run for fun?’ In a lot of sports, athletes do something wrong, and they have to run suicides. It takes a special person to make that fun and actually build teams around that.”
Battle Mountain runners received the news with understandable sadness, but also with appreciation.
“I think it was a definite shock to some of the kids, but I know that this is something he has always wanted to do,” said Jonny Stevens, Parish’s most accomplished athletic pupil. Stevens has been all-state three times in cross country and holds or shares every school distance track record.
“I think this is the right time for him to do it. The school is going to lose a great teacher and a coach, but he’s definitely made Battle Mountain a better place. I know it was a tough decision for him, but this is the right one for him.”
Parish’s ability to run with his team, especially on the day of a race, is a running joke at Battle Mountain. He can be seen running across the infield during track or jumping out of bushes with split times at cross country meets.
“He always seems to be there wherever you are,” senior Jamie Lee Roberts said. “You definitely know he’s giving a lot, even if he’s sick. I remember the Liberty Bell (cross country meet) last year. I heard this voice, ‘Come on, Roberts.’ He was really sick that day, but he was still running hard.”
The Pied Piper
Not only has his teams’ successes been notable, but Parish’s ability to get students at Battle Mountain to run cross country and participate in track and field has been nothing short of remarkable.
Lee Stevenson, the mother of Grant, Class of 2005, recalled meeting Parish at a fall sports meeting in 2003. At the time Grant was playing soccer, but Parish approached her with the possibility of getting him to come out for cross country.
“(My husband) Mark and I looked liked at him like he was an alien, but the next thing you know Grant is running cross country as a junior,” Lee said. “It was Rob Parish.
“Mark or I will never be able to put into words how he changed Grant’s life. He’s still running on the tri(athlon) team up in Montana (at college). He races and runs all summer and enters triathlons all over the country because Rob gave him that.”
Starting with the likes of Grant Stevenson, Rob Finlay, Catherine Himmes and Erika Ghent, Parish started putting together a cross county team. Finlay and Himmes were the first to make the state meet as individuals, then a very big accomplishment at Battle Mountain, earlier in the decade.
By 2004, Huskies cross country had grown in talent and size that both sets of Huskies qualified as teams for the first time in school history. Battle Mountain cross county broke onto the Colorado scene the next year with the girls winning the state title. The boys team is the two-time defending state champion, with the Huskies winning last fall’s meet with a mere 55 points ” lower is better in cross country ” more than doubling up second-place Liberty (111).
Battle Mountain regularly has gotten 75 athletes, the usual number for football at most schools, to come out each fall for cross country.
The success in cross country has spilled over to track and field. Not only does Battle Mountain naturally have strong distance runners ” the school’s boys’ 3,200-meter relay team is the undisputed top squad in the region ” the Huskies are filling each of the 17 disciplines of the sport for the first time in ages.
“I think he’s an inspirational coach,” Cope said. “He’s built a program. To build a team is one thing, but to build a program from what was essentially scratch is a big achievement.
Cope certainly knows something about that, having won a combined five league titles during the last four years with boys and girls soccer at the school.
“The thing I’ve always said about Rob is that he is able to get the most out of elite athletes, while still making it an enjoyable experience for less-talented athletes. To do both at the same time is amazing. He’s Pied Piper of running.”
Parish will be teaching 8th-10th graders science at an international school in Trieste, two hours east of Venice.
Seeing the world has been one of Parish’s hobbies. He went to Costa Rica while he was in college and has ventured to New Zealand and the Italian Alps as well.
“Exploring different cultures has been a passion of mine,” Parish said. “I’ve wanted to be in Europe, and this seemed like the chance of a lifetime.”
Parish will continue to coach the track teams through the spring. The Huskies open today at both the Horizon Relays in Thornton as well as a meet in Delta. While excited about living abroad for the next two years, Parish still considers Eagle County home.
“At this point, I plan on returning,” he said. “I love my jobs, both teaching and coaching and all it provides. This is where I have my adult home.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.