Newest cross-country coach starts off on right foot

Conboy+after+winning+the+AHSAA+800m+state+title+in+2016+%28photo+by+Anonymous%29

Conboy after winning the AHSAA 800m state title in 2016 (photo by Anonymous)

Marin Poleshek, Managing Editor

No matter if you are a committed runner, casual jogger or adamant couch potato, it is no secret that the Homewood Cross Country and Track programs have experienced immense success over the past decade. With a total of 32 state championships, the desire to become part of this legacy of achievement runs deep within student-athletes and coaches alike. 

For new coach Sean Conboy, though, the tradition of Homewood greatness is familiar. A 2016 Homewood graduate, Conboy is keenly aware of the strength of Patriot running. During his high school career, he brought home an individual 800m state title along with multiple All-State performances in both cross country and track.

This success did not come instantaneously, however. Originally aiming to play football, running was not on Conboy’s radar until middle school coach Eric Swope convinced him to join the cross country team.“I was going to sign up for football again,” Conboy recalls, “[but] then Coach Swope told me not to do that because I would be better at running.”

According to Conboy, Swope’s claim proved “kind of true and kind of not.” Despite putting forth a commendable effort, he consistently placed out of scoring range at meets.“I just remember being really proud of myself,” Conboy says, “Even though I was the last guy on the team, I didn’t stop. And that, to me, was the biggest goal.”

Conboy alongside coaches Donaldson and Porter at the 2016 AHSAA Track and Field State Championships (photo by Anonymous)

As time eventually told, Conboy’s early goal of “not stopping” transformed into something much bigger. After graduating high school, he went on to run Division I at Boston College where he continued to garner success. Now back at Homewood as an assistant cross-country coach, Conboy is working to pursue greatness in a different way. While trophies and accolades are worthy in their own right, a deep dedication to building relationships with athletes lies at the heart of Conboy’s perspective on running.

For any new coach, the prospect of achievement can create a palpable sense of pressure. And, in a community with significant accolades like Homewood, that sense of pressure is even more daunting. However, according to Conboy, this year’s new combination of coaches makes the pressure feel secondary to excitement. “Everyone brings such unique things to the table,” Conboy marvels, “I feel like I’m having a lot of fun with it.” 

As reported by Head Coach Josh Donaldson, the coaches’ ability to “engage with athletes” is what makes this year so special. With a deep-seated staff consisting of Donaldson, Conboy, Kelly, and additional new coach Frances Patrick, the ability to divide responsibilities fosters a multi-faceted training experience. Donaldson also says that Conboy’s running experience will offer a fresh perspective on the definition of success. Speaking on the program’s achievements, Donaldson claims that “Legacy is not just what you do on the cross country course or the track, it’s the character and who you are outside of that as well.”

When asked about his personal coaching philosophy, Conboy claims that his primary goal is to “bring a lot of positive energy” and “pay attention to the little things.” Team members from both the girls’ and boys’ sides corroborate this, saying that Conboy is attentive to detail and ensures that stretching and core work are a focus of each practice. This commitment to detail is a trait that lines up well with Coach Donaldson, who also emphasizes the “little things” in his coaching.

Conboy after placing first on his team in a collegiate 800m race (photo by Anonymous)

Among the most impactful of these “little things” is team dynamic. Because running is such a mental sport, the attitude of both team members and coaches can make or break a team’s ability to succeed. In Conboy’s opinion, “athletes aren’t inherently negative,” and he is more concerned with athlete disengagement. When asked how he might handle this, Conboy says that his main goal is to “find out why the negativity exists” so that he can “coach [the student] through it.” Above all, though, Conboy strives to be the “number one fan” for his athletes and believes that the team’s collective attitude this year is strong. 

Senior team member Andrew Laird agrees that this year will be “one of the best years for team dynamics.” With a strong group of upperclassmen who have been running together since middle school, Laird says that the boys’ team is “cohesive” and gets along well, despite losing many of its top runners over the past two seasons. On the other hand, senior Camille Etheridge believes that the girls’ side has some work to do. With a mix of new and veteran members, Etheridge notes a slight gap in between the groups and hopes they will come together throughout the season. “The older runners just have things ingrained in themselves,” Etheridge explains, adding that a new coach may help connect with younger team members.

However, while many sports consider some seasons to be “building years,” Conboy believes that the concept doesn’t apply to cross country. In his opinion, putting together a cross-country team is “more of a process” that is built around the leadership of both upper and underclassmen. “The people underneath are hungry,” Conboy claims. “While there may be new people, the process is the same.”

I don’t think I realized how special this place was until I came back”

— Coach Sean Conboy

Hailing from an assistant coach position in Massachusetts, Conboy knows what building a team looks like. His previous school came with many “new changes and challenges” that differed greatly from those here in Homewood. “The hand you are dealt can make things hard,” Conboy says. Nonetheless, despite the adversities faced by his students, his track team ended up making regionals for the first time in school history.

Conboy demonstrates a lab to his fifth-period Physical Science class (photo by Marin Poleshek)

Though Conboy has undoubtedly achieved much, he holds strong to the notion that true success comes from fostering lasting relationships with his students. As a Physical Science teacher in addition to a coach, he values “how students are doing outside,” whether that means outside of sport or outside of the classroom. In his mind, the primary goal of coaches and teachers is to “make great people,” not just win championships or receive high grades.

Ultimately, it is a genuine love for athletes and students that has brought Conboy back to Homewood, and it is an investment in the futures of those students that motivates him to continue pouring back into this community. “It has only gotten more special since I’ve been gone,” Conboy says. “I don’t think I realized how special this place was until I came back.”

The Homewood Cross-Country team has its first meet on September 10th at Chickasaw Trails in Moulton, Alabama.