BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — Callie Burson was not looking for a coaching job, but she found one anyway.
Burson was hired this summer as a long-term substitute in the Maumee school district, for which she was prepared. When the administration also asked her to take over coaching the Panthers girls cross country team, however, that was much less expected.
She took a day and eventually accepted the head coaching position, but it’s not like she had plenty of time to prepare – she took over five days before the season started.
While this is her first head coaching job, Burson isn’t completely new to coaching or running. She has coached volleyball and last year, she was an assistant track coach at Notre Dame Academy. Burson credits the coaches at NDA with guiding and helping her through this process.
“They have taught me so much about coaching,” Burson said. “I attribute so much of the fundamentals and organizational pieces of coaching cross country, they are the ones. They have made quite the impression on me as a young coach.”
Burson’s coaching roots go back a little further, though. Her dad, Chris Drage, was the girls cross country coach at Maumee. At first, though, that didn’t exactly sell Burson on wanting to follow in her family’s footsteps.
“I was naturally averse to running because I wanted to be different from my family,” Burson said with a laugh. “I ran in high school for a few years because I thought I’d be good at it and it would be a good way to stay in shape.”
She played volleyball at Anthony Wayne and then Toledo Christian before going to Taylor University in Indiana to play as well. A broken ankle derailed her volleyball career and she moved home, graduating from The University of Toledo.
It was during that time with a broken ankle that Burson decided to start running. She now competes in triathlons.
She stepped into a great situation with the Panthers. While they lost some experience to graduation last year, they return the defending Division II district individual champion in sophomore Lucy Porter.
While Burson admits she hasn’t had much time to work out with Porter – or any of the team for that matter – she’s already been impressed by her.
“Every coach’s dream is to have a runner like Lucy,” Burson said. “Her first workout of the year, and I’m already like, ‘Holy smokes.’ That’s at the beginning of the season, we haven’t done a lot of speed work, we haven’t done a lot of work at all. It was impressive for her to rip some 800 (meter) repeats like it was nothing.
“She has goals this season competitively, and it’s definitely my aim to help her reach those goals. I’m excited to see what happens.”
Burson will rely on juniors Emily Swartz and Sky Janes as high-level contributors to the varsity team as well.
“They are a joy to be around,” Burson said. “They showed up to everything with great attitudes and ready to work.”
The Panthers only have one senior on the roster in Claire Farthing. In addition to running in the varsity meets, Burson said Farthing’s leadership will be instrumental in the team trying to repeat its success from last year.
“She has done a really good job of being in step with me,” Burson said. “My aim with Claire is to let her step up and lead the team and keep the tradition, and she has. She has stepped into that role.”
Burson said her vision isn’t to step in and completely change the Maumee program from the ground up. She understands the athletes are accustomed to the way things have been done and have seen great success from it – the Panthers advanced as a team to the D-II regional meet last year.
So while Burson will be running her own race to catch up early this season after her late hiring, she can be comfortable knowing there are plenty of pieces in place to keep the team rolling along.