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Smith Plans To Continue Running Career In College

Napoleon High School cross country runner Austin Smith, front, battles a teammate and a Manchester High School runner during a meet at Ella Sharp Park last fall. Photo by Jeff Steers, JTV Sports.

By Jeff Steers
JTV Sports

In a case of irony, Napoleon High School parent Linda Smith lobbied for years to allow NHS students to participate in more than one sport during a given season.

Her son, Austin, was scheduled to play baseball and run track for the Pirates this season – the first year in which students could dual sport.

A pandemic in mid-March and the subsequent cancelation of school and sports was a double hit for Smith.

The NHS senior was part of the NHS varsity basketball team playing in a district basketball final a day before school was postponed for three weeks. He had also looking forward to returning to baseball after two years off the sport.

But Gov. Gretchen Whitmer canceled the last two months of school and the Michigan High School Athletic Association followed suit by canceling the remainder of the sports seasons in early April.

“I felt like we were going to win the basketball district,” Smith said. “It was a bummer we could not finish out the district tournament.”

But the soon-to-be NHS graduate took some time off – about a week – from the original postponement. He has made up for lost time averaging 50 miles per week in preparation for running cross country and track at Trine University this fall.

He expected the Pirates to have a state-qualifying 3,200-meter relay team this spring in track.

“We had the top four runners in cross country on the relay team,” Smith said. “Last year we were two spots short of qualifying for the state meet.”

Smith said he was also looking forward to attempting to break the school record of 4 minutes, 24 seconds in the 1,600-meter run.

“My best time last year was in the 4:50s, but I spent a lot of time running during the winter,” Smith said.

The senior ran cross country, played basketball, ran track, and played junior varsity baseball as a sophomore.

He helped the Pirates earn a spot in the MHSAA Division 3 cross country finals last fall. Napoleon tied with Homer for third place, but earned the third and final qualifying spot in a sixth-runner tiebreaker.

Smith said competing in the MHSAA state cross country finals at Michigan International Speedway – with 300 other runners at the start line – was crazy.

“I didn’t get out fast enough, and ended up running alone,” Smith said. “I didn’t notice a mud slide area and got way behind.

“I must have passed 100 people in the second mile … I settled down the rest of the way.”

He expects to compete on the cross country team at Trine this fall. Smith finished ninth in his class with a 3.93 grade point average and plans to study engineering.

The senior said he took everything in stride when the pandemic ended his running and athletic career at NHS. It finally hit him about a month into the isolation.

“My friends were all of the guys on the athletic teams at Napoleon,” Smith said. “It has been tough running on your own … that is where you notice the difference.”

Smith was all-conference honorable mention in cross country as a senior and would have earned eight varsity letters over his last three years at Napoleon – barring the COVID-19 shut down.

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