Deer Isle—Athletics is in Deer Isle-Stonington High School cross-country coach Mary Penfold’s blood. A three-sport athlete in high school and a basketball player and swimmer in college, one of Penfold’s earliest memories is running.
“My mom and sisters and I—I remember going on runs with them when I was 8 or 9,” she said. “I come from a very athletic family.”
Four years ago, that athletic drive led to a conversation between Penfold and then principal Todd West about the need for a cross-country program at the school. Penfold said West and the administration were supportive from the beginning.
“All I really had to do was ask,” she said. “I knew there was a need for it, as there are kids who are more interested in individual sports than they are in team sports like soccer, which was the only fall team we had then.”
Penfold took the helm of the program and ran with it, with her son Brendan, a freshman at the time, at her side as a competitor. During the last four years, Penfold said she has studied a variety of books and had conversations with other coaches about how best to lead a team in an individualized sport.
“Cross-country is different because a lot of it is about self motivation by the runners,” she said. “I tell them that they’ll get out of it what they put into it, and I try to be motivating and push them to improve their times, but ultimately it is on them.”
Penfold said that while she works to push the runners to their potential, she also tries to remain hands off and let the athletes problem solve and work through their running strategies during meets and practices.
“I think I’m pretty relaxed,” she said. “I want them to do their best, but it also has to come from them. I’m here as a mentor and for support, and that’s what I try to be.”
Penfold’s team consists of six to eight runners, a collection of boys and girls, so the team has not been scoring at the team level during meets. Regardless, though, Penfold said she is proud of the improvements the athletes have made throughout the seasons. Her hope is that the program continues to grow and that the numbers of interested runners will climb the longer the program exists.
Her son Brendan graduates this year, but with two more sons coming through the school, she has no intentions of giving up the program.
“It’s fun to watch the runners improve, not just my kids but everybody. They work hard and it’s really great to see, because it might bring in more kids as the program goes on,” she said.