Setting goals, having a good work ethic to achieve those goals and improving along the way are a part of every athlete’s DNA.
At Phoenix Central High, the approach means even more. It is a family project of sorts that has led Paul Bonnett and his son, James, to guide the boys’ and girls’ cross-country programs at the school.
Paul Bonnett (pronounced bone-ay) has been the boys’ team coach for 11 years. James stepped in to take over the girls’ program after the previous coach departed, although Jim doesn’t have the official title of head coach. The Bonnetts have their team workouts together so that the athletes may get the benefits of both coaches’ expertise.
“It has been fun to spend time and work with my father,’’ James Bonnett said.
Paul Bonnett, 52, was a runner at Phoenix Paradise Valley, and James Bonnett, 27, ran for Phoenix Horizon. Both are involved in ultra running (even longer than marathon distance). James won the 50-mile Zane Grey event earlier this year and in a few weeks will compete in the 100-mile Mogollon Monster event along the Rim near Payson.
The Bonnetts face their share of challenges because Central is considered by some to be an inner-city school.
Many of the athletes who come out for the teams want to compete but have not done much running before, perhaps only in sports such as soccer. There are some who cannot show up all the time due to other obligations (family), or have difficulty finding transportation.
“It can be a hard sell because of the heat in the early season. Some people want to stay inside. The process can take awhile, but the kids who come out work hard and you can see the improvement,’’ said Paul Bonnett, whose teams have reached the state meet in 10 straight seasons.
There are 22 athletes participating (combined boys and girls).
“We think that in our case, it can be beneficial for both groups to run together, to encourage one another, share the experience,’’ Paul Bonnett said. “Sometimes in the past, the girls have not received as much coaching as the boys, so I wanted to push for that (running at the same time).’’
With the weather still warm, most of the running is done before school, as early as 5 or 6 a.m. There are a few athletes who work after school or in the early evening.
“Quite a few of the girls had no experience in running, but they have done a good job. If they weren’t serious about it, they wouldn’t make the effort to be out here at the early hour,’’ James Bonnett said.
“You have to be patient with them.’’
Said Paul Bonnett: “The kids have been fantastic about it.’’
It can be intimidating for a runner, particularly those who don’t have much experience, to start their first meet and have some opponents jump out to a quick early start and leave people in the dust.
But James Bonnett points out that it doesn’t always end up that way.
“I tell the girls to go out, try to get better and especially to have fun,’’ he said. “I tell them “Don’t even think about trying to keep up (with the fast starters). You will develop your own pace. Some of those fast starters might end up walking or slow down and you could pass them.’
“Some of our kids might not be able to run the entire three miles at first, but they will. That’s what’s great about coaching, seeing them at the start and then watching them improve. They feel good about themselves.’’