HART – When Terry Tatro stepped foot onto the grounds of Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn Saturday morning, he had no idea what was in store for his Hart cross country teams.
By the time late Saturday afternoon rolled around and the Pirates boarded the bus back to Hart, the veteran coach was trying to process what had just happened.
For the fifth straight year, Hart’s girls cross country team captured the Division 3 state title. The Pirates are the fourth Lower Peninsula team to win five consecutive state championships, joining Charlevoix’s boys (1987-91), Rockford’s girls (1998-2002) and Dexter’s boys (2002-06).
Meanwhile, Hart’s boys squad finished runner-up in Division 3 for the second straight season.
“Well, I’m still trying to digest it. It will take me several days before I’m really settled and got it all figured out” Tatro said Saturday night. “My wife (Linda) is better at that than I am. Like on the bus ride home, she was looking at all the stats and stuff. I said, ‘I don’t even want to see it.’
“It’s just so much excitement, so much involved throughout the whole season. The build-up to it for the state finals is just, I don’t know if I want to use the word pressure or not, but there’s just so much involved that is just takes me a lot of time to go through it.”
Hey, it’s heady stuff when your program grows to become one of the most dominant in Michigan high school cross country history.
It didn’t start that way.
Tatro took over the program in 1999. A retired Michigan State Police trooper from the Hart post, Tatro recalled from early in his coaching career that the Pirates had only four runners for a regional meet. Now, the roster counting girls and boys numbers in the 30-35 range.
Hart cross country is one big family. Yes, many of the runners are related, notably from the Ackley and Enns family tree, but also including Jazwinskis and countless others who have made contributions to the Pirates’ run of success.
Tatro considers himself a father figure. Meanwhile, Linda Tatro serves as “Mama Coach,” which is exactly what the runners call her. She joined her husband as a Hart coach in 2008.
“They just kind of knew that it was my role. I only have the one daughter, so these are like all my kids – and I can’t do enough for them,” she said.
Hart’s girls team used its strength at the top and depth to pull away for state title No. 5. The Pirates finished with 143 points, leaving them 36 points ahead of team runner-up Kent City.
Sophomore Alyson Enns, who has battled an injury for more than a month, placed second overall with a team-best time of 17:59.67. Freshman Jessica Jazwinski was third overall in 18:00.59. Enns’ older sister, senior Audrianna Enns, placed fourth with a time of 18:32.27.
Freshman Lexie Beth Nienhuis just missed all-state honors, which go to the top 30 finishers, as the Pirates’ fourth finisher and 31st overall in the race (19:36.65). Junior Abigail Pretty was Hart’s fifth placer and 159th overall (21:47.49).
“We’re just a big family on this team and I love it. I think that’s one thing that makes cross country special is that you do everything together. You just form a really great bond together,” Audrianna Enns said.
Hart’s boys team finished second behind St. Louis, just like in 2020. Terry Tatro said the Pirates held a narrow lead after the two-mile mark, but that St. Louis kicked it into gear over the final mile-plus.
Three Hart boys runners earned all-state accolades with top-30 finishes: Junior Clayton Ackley — first cousin to Audrianna and Alyson Enns – with his 10th-place effort (16:19.34); junior Wyatt Dean in 26th (16:43.31); and senior Noah Bosley in 29th (16:44.16).
Growing up on the Ackley family farm as one of 24 cousins, Clayton Ackley said one can’t help but be competitive with all the games played outdoors – most of them involving some sort of running or moving, including tag.
Even those Hart runners who are not related to the Ackleys, Ennses or Jazwinskis are considered important members of the Pirates’ running family, Clayton Ackley said.
“You’ve got to be with each other every day,” he said. “I think that’s a huge factor that plays into winning state or getting you there, I guess, to set you apart is just having great relationships with your teammates. Knowing to call them out when they’re being lazy or something and being there for them when they do have a bad day.”
Blood relatives or not, Hart’s runners go after each other every time they race. From the time they step up to the starting line until their feet cross the finish line, it’s all business.
Before and after races, they’re very supportive of each other and even their opponents. As Tatro pointed out, running is like a fraternity.
For the Ackleys and Enns family, the sibling and cousin rivalry is a big motivator.
“It’s real, definitely,” she said with a big smile. “My cousin Savannah (Ackley) always said, ‘We’re best friends — it just doesn’t get any better than that – but once we step on the line, we’re worst enemies.’ That’s just how it works.
“We love each other so much, but yeah, when it comes to the race we are definitely grinding down and trying to beat each other. I love it, though, it’s so much fun.”
The runners support each other, and the community backs them, too.
Like in years past, when the bus rolled into town Saturday night and Hart’s cross country teams had two more big trophies to add to the case, the community was waiting for them, complete with a fire and police escort.
“I was just so proud of those kids and the way they pulled it off — all their hard work and their commitment to the program and their commitment to each other,” Tatro said. “I mean, after the race, there was just so much hugging and congratulations and stuff.
“Those kids care about each other just as much as they care about themselves and I think that’s what makes our team strong.”
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