With the final results being tallied and most everyone at the Lakeside Municipal Golf Course at Kennedy Park in Fort Dodge heading for their car, a kid in a blue windbreaker, and blue and white stocking cap complete with the fuzzy ball, was doing a cooldown run.
Holy Trinity Catholic senior Matt Hellige was in a fluid jog down the golf course, like he’d just stepped out of the house for an early morning workout.
But Hellige had just finished his final cross country high school state meet. It was just another day…and probably just another run.
I’d worn shorts because for the past two years, being November and all, I had come to this state meet in blue jeans and boots. This year I put on the photographer shorts and Brooks running shoes.
Covering high school sports gives you a chance to chronicle the ups and downs of some who’ll finish competing as seniors, some who’ll compete at a college level, and the occasional person who exceeds on a national scale.
As a hyperlocal outlet, it’s more rare to see the state champions, but it’s still fitting, we believe, to talk about the high school successes at a myriad of levels.
Whether Matt Hellige excels at college or on a national level doesn’t matter. This kid doesn’t get bothered by anything…at least he doesn’t show it.
“Oh… once in a while, I get revved up. I get pumped up, but I’m really quiet about it,” he said after garnering a 24th place finish at the Class 1A State cross-country meet.
It was the third state meet he’d participated in, finishing 90th as a sophomore and 58th as a junior.
It’s kind of hard to get comments out of Matt as he’s as humble as the course at Kennedy is long. He’ll have a smile, whether he’s first or last because he knows one thing. He always runs his race.
Running is a love for a kid who told his parents as a seventh grader that he wanted to run cross country. Matt’s dad John said he and his wife Amy, Matt’s mom, just hoped their son wouldn’t finish last.
“Mike Schneider was his first coach and he said Matt’s doing very well,” John said. “And then the next time he said, “Matt’s legit”. We hadn’t seen him run yet and we’re like – ‘This guys puttin’ us on”.
John said the first meet Matt went to was in junior high and was at Van Buren High School.
“We get to the first meet at Van Buren, and I ran state cross country in high school, but hadn’t been to a meet in 20 years, so we didn’t expect him to do really well,” John said.
“We just hung around the start and finish and here he comes around and he’s right behind the gator and we’re like, “did he jump on the Gator?, did he take a wrong turn?… and he ended up taking second. And we’re like, holy cow, what have we got here.”
Matt said running is now a priority in his life. Not just competing, but for the joy and happiness it brings him.
“It’s pretty high up there,” Hellige said. “There’s other things like school and religion, family, and friends, too. All those things are pretty important.
“In races and in practice it’s kind of nice to be by myself at times. But then then with dad and Jairo (Scruggs) running with me or bicycling with me, we have good talks. With my dad we just getting into some really good chats and I’ll always enjoy that.”
Scruggs is one of many coaches that have influenced Hellige throughout high school. FMHS track co-coaches Mike Schneider and Chad Hannum have spent time with Hellige as has his father, HTC boys cross country coach Matt Mohrfeld, and even his brother and sister, Luke and Mary.
“I would just thank everybody. My dad especially… Jairo and Matt, they’ve been with me for so long. And my mom for making all those meals. My siblings have even kept things interesting and fun,” Matt said.
But John said his son has been a student of the game since he first brought up running in junior high. John said Matt had a desire to play basketball and played AAU events.
“At the events we would go to, he would say, “Dad, let’s go for a run”, and we’d go out and run a couple miles between practices and games,” John said.
“He’s done all the hard work. He just has a tremendous work ethic, hasn’t had a soda in six years, watches his nutrition, gets plenty of sleep, and he’s kind of a student of the game.”
Scruggs came along from Mt. Pleasant during Matt’s sophomore year and has helped with some of Matt’s mechanics. John called him a Godsend.
“He was at a Mt. Pleasant meet and was telling me Matt’s doing this wrong and that wrong, and I asked him to come help us and he started running with us and volunteered at HTC,” Hellige said.
“He’s been a Godsend for Matt technically, inspirationally, and motivationally. Along with Matt, Mike, and Chad and all those guys have played a big role in it.”
Mohrfeld said the transition over the years has been something special.
“I’ll watch him and you’ll send him off on those six and seven mile runs and the miles just melt away. The other kids, they mentally just don’t like that… he likes that.”
Scruggs said Hellige has brought about the changes with his own dedication.
“Matt’s really good to work with and trains really hard and he’s dedicated,” Scruggs said. “It’s been a pleasure to work with him over these last three years.”
Running will almost assuredly be part of the Hellige’s continuing education. He said he’s still looking at colleges, but his dad said he thinks the decision has been made.
But win or lose at the next level, you can be sure he’ll leave it all on the course and be wearing a smile during the cool down – But that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of the Pen City Current and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.