In the summer of 1993, several girls cross country runners from Clinton High School made it a point to meet up daily and hit the pavement.
Well, that wouldn’t be quite accurate. Not only did they hit the pavement, but they all but wore a groove on city streets and the local park. Partly, the running sessions were to meet expectations of coaches Clint and Karen Sanders.
“Now summer running is what teams do. At that time, it wasn’t really expected,” said Emily Miles Kazmaier, a senior on the 1993 team. “We knew the workload of having that schedule. We knew our summer running was really important.”
That season punctuated a memorable stretch, and it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct the Clinton High School Girls Cross Country Era of 1991-1993 with the Class of 2023.
Located in Henry County, where Highways 13, 7, 18, and 52 intersect, the community of Clinton still talks about that era. The Cardinals earned top four finishes in Class 3 at the state meet each season.
That included winning the state championship in 1993, with seniors Kazmaier, Emily Sledd Brown and Mindy Wyatt Hill finishing fourth, 11th and 13th, respectively to earn All-State honors.
The 1991 team placed third thanks, in part, to Jennifer Owen Call finishing 19th and Hill 28th. The 1992 team placed fourth, with Kazmaier, Call and Hill earning All-State honors with 11th, 17th and 25th-place finishes.
Other members of the teams in the era were Leigh Ann Sexauer Thompson, Amber Houk, Amy Norcross, Tracy Smith, Amber Harrell and Jamie Alexander Smith.
Clearly, it was a team effort, led by the Sanders. Both high school runners, the two met as athletes at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
They took over coaching cross country, as well as track & field, in the late 1980s and spent 29 years at Clinton High School.
“They did a lot with a little,” Kazmaier said. “They really believed in us. They were tough on us. I just remember going to college and running at (the University of Kansas) and showing up for workouts and was like, ‘This is all we’re doing?’”
In 1990, the team was thin on numbers, and so runners recruited others in the hallways. That set up success for the next three seasons.
It was especially notable for Kazmaier, whose older brother passed away in the fall of her freshman season after having encouraged her to try to the sport.
“In the years leading up to (the era), we had had good strong runners in Clinton,” Karen Sanders said. “Sometimes, we had to go search for them. It actually took some door-knocking and visiting homes to encourage them. I think a lot of kids are afraid of cross country. They think it’s too much running. But it took a lot of encouragement and searching.”
The Sanders coaching duo incorporated much more distance running than what other high school programs were used to. It helped that their college cross country background made a difference.
In fact, Clint and Karen both ran with their Clinton athletes.
“I think we earned their respect, because we knew what they were going through,” Karen said. “We were all in it together. We did a lot of team-building. We had dinners at houses, Sunday runs and bagels after. We built a foundation and gave them something new and fun and different.”
The night before the 1993 state meet, Clint remembers mapping out the necessary finishes for each Clinton runner.
“They didn’t need all to be in the top 20. They just needed to do their job that day,” Clint said. “Their eyes were looking at me like a deer in headlights. And finally one of the girls raised her hand and said, ‘Coach, do you really think we could all win state?’ And I said, ‘I think we can win state if you all do your job.’ Something clicked that night.”
The next day, Clinton’s fourth girl, Houck, was coming up a hill about a quarter of a mile from the finish. She was in about 60th place, and Clint and Karen ran over and hollered to get in front of a pack of about 20 girls. She caught every one of those girls, and allowed Clinton to best Kearney by a mere 27 points.
That was among many great memories.
“We were all very close and had that camaraderie,” Kazmaier said. “We just all worked together.”