Coach Casey Gates and cross country runners take a break earlier in the season. (Photo courtesy of Casey Gates)

Petersburg High School’s cross country team had its first meet of the season in Klawock last weekend. It was a first for the team’s new coach, Casey Gates, as well. Gates is a 6th grade teacher at the school district and has helped out with the middle school cross country team in the past. 

He talked with KFSK’s Hannah Flor about the hard work the high school runners have already put in this season, and what he’s learning as a new coach. He says part of the reason he decided to coach cross country was that the opportunity was there.

Casey Gates: Over the last few years – really started 2020 – I have developed a passion and interest for running. So because of that, I wanted to kind of step in and fill this role and help the kids become better runners.

Hannah Flor: Did you get into it – you said 2020 – was it COVID related?

Casey Gates: Mostly. So the funny thing is, I won a pair of running shoes from Lee’s clothing. They have the raffle every year. Jill’s my mother in law. So some people thought maybe it was rigged, but I won the pair of running shoes. So I said, I guess I’d better go for a run. And that kind of is what started me on the journey. And then on top of that, it was the spring of 2020 when the gym shut down, so I couldn’t go to the gym to workout. Basically, my only option was running.

Hannah Flor: So you have this new love of running and you’re sharing it with all these kids in cross country.

Casey Gates: Yeah. And it’s been pretty rewarding so far.

Hannah Flor: Did you get any advice from outgoing coach Tommy Thompson?

Casey Gates: Yeah, we’ve talked a lot, but I would like to talk to him more. But it just seems like the day to day goes by quickly and I don’t get the chance to talk to him as much as I would. But yes, he has helped me out. There have been some times where I felt pretty stressed out and worried. And I reached out to Tom and he kind of soothed me and made me feel a little bit better. And so that’s been very helpful. Also, the kids tell me about workouts they’ve done in the past, and I incorporate those. 

Hannah Flor: So they’re coaching you a little bit.

Casey Gates: A little bit, a little bit. 

Hannah Flor: Okay, so let’s talk about Klawock. Your first race was in Klawock last weekend. You want to tell me how it went? 

Casey Gates: It went really well. I couldn’t have been happier, frankly, with how all the kids ran. I’ll mention a few things. The boys, every single one of our boy runners PRed in Klawock. That means that was their personal record, their personal best – the fastest they’ve ever ran. And several of them PRed by minutes. And I’ll shout out Alex Holmgrain. He had a great race. He PRed by almost 35 seconds. He’s one of our veteran runners returning from last year. So he had a really good race. All the boys really did well. We finished third in that, which was a pretty respectful showing and we didn’t have two have our top runners. So this upcoming weekend is looking even better. Our girls did tremendous. Maria Toth and Kinley Lister had incredible races. Maria Toth won the whole thing. She was the first place finisher by a longshot. Maria and Kinley were first and second. Maria was ahead of Kinley by a minute and Kinley was ahead of the third place finisher by a minute. So those two girls were far and away the fastest girls there. And Gabby Whitaker was our third runner there. She had a really good race, too. She’s improving, she’s been improving steadily. So overall, the race on Saturday went really well. And like I said, as a coach, I couldn’t be happier. And you know, it’s all just a result of all the work that they put in. They’ve been working so hard since August 2nd, that was day one. It was just really cool to see all of their hard work pan out for them and for them to have success.

Hannah Flor: It sounds like they’ve been improving enormously.

Casey Gates: Yeah, enormously. Especially, you know, we got a lot of new runners, particularly on the boys team. And I mean, they’ve just been improving by leaps and bounds every week, it seems like and that’s really great to see.

Hannah Flor: So this was your first official race as a coach. How did it feel to watch your runners in the race?

Casey Gates: It felt great to watch them, especially to see them cross the finish line with pride. Overall the day went by really quickly and it was kind of hectic and chaotic, making sure that I was in the right spot at the right times. Being where the boys needed me to be and then going and getting the girls warmed up and making sure they were ready to run. It was kind of a whirlwind, honestly, which I didn’t really expect. I didn’t know what to expect because it was my first race. But to answer your question, it was incredible to see the kids run. Big learning experience for me as far as how those days are gonna go and what I need to do as a coach.