It was the kind of welcome memories are made of.
As the Hoover High School cross country team, hometown Birmingham, Alabama, entered Panther Stadium Friday night, the chants began — softly at first, then quickly gaining steam.
“Bama! Bama! Bama! Bama!”
Started by the Powell High School student body, soon everyone in the stands was in on the action, welcoming the Alabama contingent — over 100 strong with athletes, coaches and chaperones. It was a scene Hoover High head coach Devon Hind won’t soon forget.
“When our kids were walking up and the student section started yelling, ‘Bama! Bama!’ I mean, I just got chills when that happened,” Hind said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”
Friday was the Powell Invitational cross country meet at the Powell Golf Course, the Panthers’ lone home meet of the season. Runners from 11 schools on the boys’ side and nine on the girls’ participated, including the Hoover High Buccaneers, in Wyoming for a tour of the state.
The largest high school in Alabama, Hoover boasts an enrollment of about 2,800 students and is a football powerhouse. Since 2012, the team has won five state championships.
Each year, the Bucs’ cross country team takes a team trip; this year, Wyoming and — more specifically, Yellowstone National Park — got the nod.
“We decided on Wyoming, kind of just out of the blue,” Hind said. “It’s beautiful — everything’s different. We really enjoyed it.”
A caveat to these trips is wherever they choose to go, the team participates in a cross country meet. It’s a special way for the athletes to get to know more about the area they’re visiting, and when investigating a meet close to Yellowstone for this year’s trip, Hind found information about the Powell Invite online.
“[I] thought that looked good,” he said. “It was close to Yellowstone, and it was taking place the weekend that we were planning on being there. The kids had a great time; they really enjoyed it. They got to meet a lot of the Wyoming kids, and then we went to the football game afterward. They had a blast there.”
The Powell Invite features a variety of teams from around the state, making it a very competitive event. Having the team from Alabama participate was an added bonus, and PHS head coach Cliff Boos said he was impressed with the kids and their coaches, on and off the course.
“The kids from Alabama were great,” Boos said. “You start talking to them, and everything is ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘No, ma’am.’ I just loved their southern manners. And the coaches and chaperones were as nice as the kids.”
The Bucs and Lady Bucs were also competitive — the boys won the overall title, while the girls finished fourth.
Hoover senior Drew Kilgore was the top finisher for the Bucs, placing sixth in the boys’ varsity race with a time of 16:54.67. Fellow seniors Emma Langley and Haley Stallworth finished 11th and 12th, respectively, on the girls’ side, with Langley finishing in 20:45.11 and Stallworth at 20:52.65. In addition to winning the boys’ varsity title, Hoover’s JV squad took the first 10 spots in the JV boys’ race.
Hind said he was impressed with the level of competition.
“The girls got fourth, and our guys won it, but we had plenty of competition,” he said. “My individuals didn’t win it, there were some great runners in that field. It was a good meet.”
Boos said the Hoover contingent was impressed with Powell and its laid-back atmosphere — a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the big city. But what they really enjoyed was the weather.
“They said the elevation didn’t bother them too much, and they really enjoyed the cool, crisp weather; they found it refreshing,” Boos said. “They told us it’s been in the 90s in Alabama lately, and with all that humidity, they’ve just been cooking this fall. They compared Powell to walking into an air-conditioned room. They really enjoyed it.”
The Hoover team also enjoyed the Powell Golf Course layout — terrain they don’t get to run on very often.
“We don’t run on golf courses back at home, so we really enjoyed the footing,” Hind said. “When I grew up in Michigan, we ran on golf courses all the time, so I was familiar with it. But it was a first for most of the kids, and I think they liked that. Plus it was 40 degrees cooler than we’re used to. It was a perfect day.”
Following the meet, the Hoover team took in the Powell v. Cody rivalry game — rooting enthusiastically for their adopted Panthers. Members of the Bucs painted their chests with orange and black letters spelling “Powell Panthers.” Although temps may have been chillier than what they’re used to at a football game, it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.
“One of my favorite parts of the trip was seeing all those kids interact with each other,” Hind said. “I just thought that was awesome, the way they welcomed us. Our kids felt at home.”
The Alabama crew spent the weekend touring Yellowstone, and the park was gracious — the team saw plenty of elk, bison and deer (some students claimed to have seen a grizzly, but Hind couldn’t confirm it). They spent Monday night in Casper, then flew home out of Denver on Tuesday. As much fun as they had, plans are already being discussed for next year’s trip.
“There’s a Disney meet in Orlando that we were looking at for next year, but the kids are saying they would probably like to go somewhere besides Disney,” Hind said. “They love the wilderness trips, so we may do something different.”