Terry Couch always took pride in the successes of the West cross country program. He's quick to point out that the Pioneers have been represented at the state meet in 16 of the 17 years he's been associated with West.
But in recent years, the running talent channeling into West has become sparse. The accomplishments, as a team, have ceased.
"I remember kind of being frustrated," Couch recalled, "doubting myself as a coach."
He met with his college coach, Southwestern's Jim Helmer, a man whose teams have won 29 consecutive KCAC championships. What the renowned coach said has changed Couch's definition of success.
"Terry, you have to understand in a situation like yours it's not always about winning," Helmer said. "Instead of looking at the picture as 'We've got to win,' look at the other side of the picture. Ask yourself, 'How much better off are these kids that they're connected to something?' "
So Couch and his brother, Steve, cross-reference the incoming freshman list at West with the results from the middle school cross country championships. If a match is found, no matter how far down the list, the brothers pitch cross country tenaciously.
"If a kid even breathes or mentions, 'I kinda like running,' we're on them," Terry Couch said. "We're pretty relentless. Until they say, 'I really don't want to run,' we're calling them every day."
It is a requirement. Not to have a successful team — just to have a team. But Couch's persistence has piqued the interest of many runners. Jonathan Downs was planning on attending North to play basketball until he heard Couch's pitch.
"He was promising me the things I could do with cross country," said Downs, now a senior and four-year runner for West. "He was promising that I could run certain times for high school cross country and he would get me down there."
Others have benefited from just connecting with something positive.
"I would probably be at home," sophomore Chris Howard said. Cross country "keeps me busy and keeps me out of trouble."
More than likely, Couch won't be able to add another team to his list of state-qualifiers this season. But that isn't the number he's concerned with now.
"Yes, I want to take a team to state," Couch said. "I would love to take a team to state. But what you want to look at is how many kids have you connected with? How many kids have a better life and are more involved because you got them involved with cross country?"
And in that sense, Couch and West are still winners.