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Tiger boys just want to have fun ... and win

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2000


TAMPA -- Around Jesuit's campus, they call Mike Boza "Coach" because of his leadership of the Tigers' cross country team.

Upon further review, maybe they should call him "The Chemist."

After all, it's Boza who has taken a few natural runners, mixed them with some converted tennis players, a junior or two who decided it was time to start running and tossed in a couple of freshmen and sophomores to produce a pretty good cross country team.

But it takes more than just throwing a bunch of kids -- 40 show up for practice each day -- together to make them successful. If they don't get along, it's all for naught.

That's why the Tigers take a week-long trip to running camps at the end of the summer. This year, it was the camp at Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., the seniors riding in a Suburban, the rest piling into two vans.

"That helped us bond a lot," senior co-captain John Astrab said. "We had to live with each other for a week."

Bonding. That's why the team has special workouts/competitions, which include playing Frisbee, and runs in one giant group and trains throughout the summer as a corps.

That also is part of the reason why if you were to venture to Jesuit's campus following one of its practices, you'd find 40 runners stripped down to their running shorts, no socks or shoes, waist deep in a trash can full of ice water. That's right. Ice water. Thirty gallons of it to be exact.

That's one of Boza's other concoctions, and it works perfectly in three ways.

First, after running for two hours in the hot sun, nothing feels better than a nice bath of very cold water. Second, there's the physical explanation that you could liken to a pitcher icing his arm after throwing in a game; something to help relax the muscles and get the blood flowing at a more normal pace.

"I don't have any physiological explanation for why it works," said Boza, who runs with the team. "I just know that the next day, I feel a lot better."

Finally, there's the laughing and giggling and camaraderie that naturally flows from a group of high school students watching their buddies squirm, scrunching their faces and gritting their teeth as they slide into what amounts to a giant Slushee.

"Look at them all over there," senior co-captain Justin Anderson said. "They're all having a great time."

And that's what running cross country at Jesuit is all about -- having a great time. Boza makes sure of that.

"We do a lot of fun stuff," Boza said. "The first month, we ran from here to my house and everybody would go swim in the lake, ride the inner tube behind the boat. Little things like that and other kids in the school see us having a good time, and they pick up on that."

Those good times later lead to fast times, Boza said. The more students who get interested, the more students who show up to run. That leads to competition within the team, and that, in turn, leads to one of the strongest teams in the state.

"There are a lot of guys not in our top seven that could go anywhere else and be one of the top runners there," junior Colin Strickland said.

Perhaps the most important thing with the Tigers is the fact that even the Nos. 34, 35 and 36 runners want to be there everyday running those miles and trying to get better. That, the two captains said, is part of the legacy left by the group that won the state title two years ago.

"One of the best things about this team is all the kids want to be out here," Astrab said.

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