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Any high school would be thrilled with one national title, but Fayetteville-Manlius’ cross country running team has brought home nine in the last nine years.
The key to their success? It starts with Coach Bill Aris, who started volunteering with the team in 1992. Since then, he has moved up to head coach and built a powerhouse program. And his focus isn't on the top runner or a particular time. In a sport characterized by individual performances, Aris emphasizes teamwork.
"What I do is try to transcend the individuality of the sport, and selflessness really is one of the key components of our success," Aris told TODAY's Erica Hill.
One of Aris' runners, Kyle Barber, said, "he has a way of bringing out the best in everyone, whether they're at the top or at the bottom."
Every day before practice, Aris opens with an inspirational message. "Every talk, every chat, every phrase that he uses is a progression in him building them up to be outstanding athletes towards the championship season," said Scott Sugar, director of physical education and athletics at Fayetteville-Manlius HS.
And all that talk about teamwork has paid off. This December at nationals, all five Fayetteville-Manlius girls finished within 12 seconds of one another, a nearly unheard of feat in cross country.
"They knew their one path toward success was going to be being inseparable," Aris said. "They beat some teams that are far more talented than they were, and they did that because they were completely selfless."
But the girls victory didn’t quite seem complete until the boys raced. When it was finally announced that the Fayetteville-Manlius boys won their race — the first time the boys team won nationals — both the boys and girls teams started crying.
"Standing back and witnessing the spectacle of both teams hugging and together, to me, was worth every trophy in the world," said Coach Aris.
The team’s success doesn’t just stock trophy cases, it opens doors for many of these runners. All four of the runners Erica Hill spoke to have plans to run in college, and three of them have athletic scholarships.
Colleges aren’t just eyeing the runners. Sugar says he’s nervous about losing Aris to the college level "every day.” Aris brushed off concern, saying that while, "that's a very nice compliment. I like what I'm doing here."