Waking up to a crisp autumn day next cross country season will be a bittersweet experience for Jody Grove.
After 19 years at the helm of the Colonel Crawford cross country program, Grove, a member of the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame, is stepping down. She will remain the girls head track and distance coach, a post she has held for the past 33 years, and will also continue teaching.
“A beautiful fall morning I’m still probably going to feel those heartstrings tug,” Grove said. “I’m not saying I won’t find myself at a cross country meet, because what else are you going to do on a beautiful fall morning?”
A grandmother of three, Grove’s decision to coach only one sport will allow her to spend more quality time with her family. She is not ready to resign from her career on the track just yet, where she has coached three state track team championships, several individual state titles and numerous All-Ohio performers.
“For me I’ve been involved in track for 33 years and 19 with cross country and it’s a lot of your extra time,” she said.
“I’ve valued my time with these kids and I’ve enjoyed it very much, but I have three grandkids and it’s just time to be more of a grandmother than I am right now.”
Grove said she’s enjoyed every minute of the time she’s spent coaching the Eagles cross country team, a job she accepted when former coach Neil Jarvis left for Galion in 1994.
“We both coached track and when he left to go to Galion, Neil and others encouraged me to coach cross country,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why not? It should be fun.'”
Over the years Grove has sent two girls teams to the state in 2003 (eighth place) and 2004 (16th place).
Her daughter, Mariah, was a member of the 2004 team and served as Grove’s assistant this season.
“I’ve had a lot of special individuals I’ve been close to,” she said.
“The year my daughter’s team made it to state we were at Tiffin and we were one of the last spots to make it. We beat Seneca East that year and it was a total surprise to us.”
Grove led the boys team to five North Central Conference championships and a district title in 2009.
She’s sent four individuals to the state meet in Nate Iler (1998-99), Jesse Armbruster (2002) Nick McQuillen (2003-04) and Carson Britton (2009). Under her direction the girls team won six consecutive NCC championships from 1999-2004 and a 2003 district and regional runner-up banner. Grove has also sent three individual girls to state including Alaina Staiger (1997), Jenae Noblet (2002) and Lindsey Pfifher (2005-06).
A 1974 Colonel Crawford graduate, Grove ran the mile for the track team during the days of the Girls Athletic Association. She was also a cheerleader, which oddly enough, was in some ways the start of her time dedicated to encouraging runners out on the course.
“We used to go to the cross country meets, we had a good team back then in 1972. They had a state team and we went to meets at the golf course at Valley View,” she said. “We were kind of unique in the fact that we stood there and did cheers before the meet. We were allowed to get on the bus and ride with them to meets and cheer. We were football cheerleaders, but we also did that a couple days a week.”
The relationships Grove has formed throughout the years is something she will always cherish. Nothing makes her more proud than when she receives emails or Facebook posts from former Eagles who are still running and competing in 5K races.
Grove feels fortunate to have been given the chance to experience a sport where the victor isn’t necessarily the runner who goes home with the first place medal wrapped around his or her neck.
“I was standing at the regional meet and kids were finishing. You know how it is when kids are finishing and they’ve got smiles on their faces or they are about ready to fall down,” she said. “That whole aspect, if you don’t run you don’t get it, but the kid didn’t have to be first. He was running against the clock, and when he beat the clock from the meet before that is what it’s all about. That automated clock and those numbers that flashed, that’s what made you a hero at that race.”