Highlands cross country team finds plenty of positives in up-and-down season

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Monday, October 25, 2021 | 9:52 AM


Rich Bogaty has been around competitive running for a long time.

With 42 years of experience, the third-year Highlands cross country coach has seen just about everything the sport can throw at him.

But the past couple of years have been particularly challenging because of the impact of covid-19 and a lack of participation in his program.

“It’s been an up-and-down season this year,” said Bogaty, in his third season with the Golden Rams. “We’ve had minor injury problems and, with a small school, when one of our runners goes out with an injury or misses, we just don’t have a lot of people to step up and replace them. That’s been a real issue for us.”

“All in all, it’s what I expected with the number of kids we have.”

Highlands only has seven girls and six boys on the team.

“That’s been my tough task since I took over, just getting the numbers up,” he said. “It’s a tough sell. Cross country’s not an easy sport to begin with and, when you’ve got a smaller school and other sports are pulling away from it and you’re not the most glamorous game in town, you suffer the consequences.”

A year ago, Highlands finished last at the WPIAL boys and girls cross country championships. It hopes for a better experience in this year’s event, set to take place Oct. 28 at Cal (Pa.).

“We should have a full team for boys and girls,” Bogaty said.

Low numbers don’t mean the Golden Rams are void of talent.

Rebekah Young, a senior, is the girls team’s top runner, and one who Bogaty believes could run at the next level if she chooses that route.

“She’s a really good student,” Bogaty said. “She’s a drum major, she works, and she manages to balance all of those things out. She’s an inspiration, for sure.”

The boys team, meanwhile, has gotten a little European injection this season.

Kalle Lammert, a foreign exchange student and handball enthusiast from Denmark, has become the boys team’s top runner.

“He had never run before, but he’s just a natural athlete,” Bogaty said. “As the season has progressed, he’s just gotten better and better. He’s just a natural, and he can’t wait to run track now, which makes me happy.”

Elliot Bannister has complemented Lammert well.

“He’s right there with Kalle,” Bogaty added. “They’re a nice 1-2 punch to have.”

Running has been a major part of Bogaty’s life for decades. Before Highlands, he was a long-time coach at Peabody in the City League. Before that, he was a standout runner at Plum and Edinboro, where he was part of a national championship team.

He also qualified for the 1980 and ’88 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and is a member of the Pittsburgh Marathon Hall of Fame.

With so much experience at the highest of levels, it has given him a unique perspective on building up a program and allowed him to appreciate the dedication of those who choose to participate in the sport he loves.

“We’re just trying to build them up to be a little more positive and have a little pride in themselves and the school,” he said.

“The kids we’ve had have worked really hard. They’re just really great kids.

“Every kid on this team is a really good student. Some of them are in the band. It amazes me how they’re able to juggle a very busy day and still find time to come to practice, compete and want to get better. It’s a testimony to how strong they really are.”

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