Brady Archer and runner Emma Most share a photo op together at last year's state meet. Contributed photo.
Author's note: Mancos was where I cut my teaching teeth. So, long after I left Mancos, I retained an interest in how things were going in Mancos. And, eventually, Mancos stopped sending cross country runners to Durango and started their own team. I never got to know the first cross country coach at Mancos, but I have gotten to know Brady Archer fairly well over the years. It was inevitable that I would eventually choose him for one of these articles, but his success at a very small school made that selection so much easier.
Everyone comes to coaching high school cross country and track with some background in the sport. Tell us a little about yours.
I do not have a stellar background as a runner. I ran track in junior high and high school in Golden. I was a fairly average distance runner who would run any race that my coach asked me to race. Outside of my running background, I have leaned on getting information from books and clinics as well as other coaches in my area. Luckily, as a coach, I have been fortunate to meet coaches who are doing a great job with their programs. When I started, Coach Kimball in Bayfield and Coach Anderson in Pagosa Springs were great people to bounce ideas off of at meets.
Few people, even in Colorado, know where Mancos is. So, how did you find out about Mancos and the opportunity to coach there?
I know. I always have a list of places that people may know that are close to Mancos. Do you know where Mesa Verde is? Do you know where Durango is? Do you know where the southwestern corner of Colorado is? etc. I found Mancos because I went to Fort Lewis College. After I graduated, I wanted to stay in the area, but I needed a job. A friend told me Mancos was hiring. I remember calling and talking to the principal at the time about my interest in the job. I had to ask him how to get to Mancos High School. He told me to drive through downtown Mancos and that I couldn’t miss the school. That’s it. Those were his directions. So, I started teaching in Mancos as a middle school teacher and that is where I still am.
I started coaching because I was a new teacher and the A.D. approached me and offered me a coaching position for middle school track and field. I took him up on it. A couple of years after that, I went on a run with Tim Dunham, the original cross country coach, so that we could talk about starting a middle school program. Part way through the run, he told me he was moving to Thailand with his family and that I should take over the whole program. So, I did, and I have enjoyed it ever since. A few years ago, I also started helping out with the distance runners on the high school track team.
Your Chicken Creek Challenge is probably the most stable meet in southwestern Colorado. How did you end up with a meet there? Did you configure the course? How far do teams come from to participate in the meet? And what makes this meet so special?
I inherited the meet from Coach Dunham. The course has stayed fairly close to the way he designed it with a few changes here and there. It basically runs the bottom loop of the Chicken Creek Cross Country Ski Area. When we added a middle school race, we did have to design that portion though. The longest drive a visiting team has had to make is from Navajo Mountain, Utah. That is over four hours away. We have had teams from St. Michael’s in Arizona as well as a number of New Mexico and San Luis Valley schools come over through the years also. I think out here, if you can get a meet that is an hour or two away, that is pretty close.
I think the parts of the meet that make it special are on the course. The scenery as you run is beautiful. The leaves are turning around the time our meet happens and the course winds its way through old forest roads and some single track before finishing across an earthen dam near a small reservoir. It’s at around 7600 feet but it isn’t overly hilly. The other part that my runners have always appreciated is that it is not necessarily viewer-friendly until the end of the course. They like the fact that there isn’t some spectator or coach giving directions. It allows them to just run and trust themselves.
Mancos cross country has enjoyed success beyond what the enrollment of the school would suggest. And, you compete against football and volleyball for students to fill your program. Until recently, you had a few athletes from Dolores to help out your numbers, but now you've lost even those with the new program there. In spite of all the reasons not to, how has Mancos cross country fared so well?
First off, I love that Dolores has started a team. I wish every school in our league would. For the first couple of years after I started coaching the team, we did struggle with numbers. I had four runners one year. However, I think the single best thing that happened was starting a middle school team. Before, it was a hard sell for incoming freshmen. Now, almost every runner I get started on our middle school team. I always know that a number of kids love to play football and volleyball but I also know that there are a number of kids who don’t. I have relied on our runners to convince other kids what a great sport cross country is to be a part of in Mancos. Potential runners know that the coach thinks the sport is great but when their friends tell them they should go out for cross country, they listen. Doing well helps that, but so does the family aspect of the sport. These runners hang out together all the time. I also have made sure we are covered by the local papers even to the point of writing my own stories and sending them to the paper for a number of years.
Cross country or track?
This is a simple question with way too many dimensions. I love the family feel of cross country. The kids train together, hang out together, laugh together, and support each other throughout the season. You will not hear a stranger set of conversations than when you go on a long run with cross country runners. I also like the varying courses throughout the season. However, I think coaching track brings out a different animal in runners. What other sport do you get to see so many different types of athleticism in one venue? I have had runners who only liked cross or only liked track. I don’t know if that answer works or not. Maybe we need to combine the two and have cross country track and field meets.
Can you pick out a favorite moment or two from your coaching experience in Mancos?
That’s a tough question. I have favorite moments where I learned something about coaching and then I have favorite moments where runners amazed me in the ways they responded in the moment. However, I think my favorite moment was the year  we were second as a team at the state meet. We had two girls on that team who were the original two members of our middle school team. They had seen the team grow over the years from a team that was an afterthought to a team that had success on a number of fronts. They had both had their ups and downs but always continued working to get better. To see them cross the finish line in their last race and then receive the trophy was very special.