Kate Massey and Coach Hale
Coach Mark Hale has been at Commerce for a long time. The Athens native, and graduate of Clark Central was active in sports, but not cross country. When he was hired by then principal of Commerce High School, Donnie Drew, in the fall of 1992 to be a social studies teacher, he was given the opportunity to coach quite a bit. Along with learning how to teach, he committed to coach basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. The principal also asked him to start a cross country team, Hale declined at that time. A few years later the Commerce HS Athletic Director, Steve Savage asked again. This time Hale was in a different point in his life and took the team over in 1998 and has led it since then, with this season being his 20th season in charge.
Hale remarked that he was woefully unprepared to be the cross country coach. Hale remarked "I had no experience in the sport when I became the coach. I had to go and talk to some other head coaches about what I should do during practice as far as stretching, drills, and workouts were concerned." Over time he learned and his teams have become consistent in their Area as well at the State Championships.
Hale, who loves the students he teaches and coaches, as evidenced that a favorite tradition after the Area meet is to have a cookout at his house, where the kids get to relax. They eat, play soccer, basketball, Frisbee and just talk. "I also love to see them accomplish things they did not think they would be able to accomplish". One specific event that he mentioned was when his girls team won the Area title by 1 point in 2015. Reminiscing Hale described the event this way "Kate Massey won that race on the last stride and that ended up being the difference for the team. That was a thrill."
All teams face challenges, for Hale and Commerce it usually is the numbers game. The majority of years, he would have between 5 and 10 runners per team. This became a challenge when the inevitable injuries occurred. "I go to meets where there are 30 or so members on a team running in the JV race and I am amazed" spoke Hale with a little bit of wistful envy. Additionally like many coaches at schools, the toil of teaching, driving to meets, coaching, and driving started to take its toll. With the creation of a MS program, the HC for that program, Greg Maxwell, and Hale now share the load.
Like most schools the focus of the schedule is on two races, Area/Region and the State Championship. When asked for his favorite courses in the state he mentioned "I especially like the course at GMC where we run the Area Meet and the state course at Carrollton. Both events are so well organized and they are the meets we have been eyeing the entire season. Our teams look forward to those events each year." In addition to these two, Tallulah Falls School hosts two races, the Cookies and Quotes and Harrier Harvest races that are themed, and tucked into the beautiful corner of Northeast Georgia.
Despite not having much experience, Coach Mark Hale has become a Cross Country convert and is spreading the word in the Northeast Georgia area.