|Article and photo submitted by Chris Smith
Championships are not built on luck. They are built on hard work and relationships. That is easy to see for anyone
who watches coach Matt Paxton at a running workout.
Excuses and personal space are not things Paxton respects. His face to face talks with his runners are seen daily.
Pushing some, encouraging others, but always wanting the best out of every runner.
His cross-country teams at Unioto High School have won 17 of 18 league titles, and 15 of the last 17 District
Championships. They have 16 trips to the State Cross Country Meet the past 17 seasons. He was recently named
Cross Country Coach of the Year in the state of Ohio. Coach Paxton is also on the executive board for the State
Coaches Association and the OHSAA Track Advisory Committee. But those are not the things coach Paxton
treasures the most – relationships are.
Relationships are key.
“Relationships are everything. No athlete cares what you know until they know that you care. No team functions
without a culture and basic understanding that everyone works, and everyone gives it all they have for the success of
the team. It's darn hard to run a hard race just for yourself. To dig that deep, especially for a young athlete, [it]
means doing it for the team.” -Matt Paxton
Matt continues to build champions year after year in distance running. But that does not come without obstacles. It is
a struggle to find athletes willing to give distance running a chance. He describes this as his biggest obstacle in
Running is hard.
“Dealing with the fact that running is a hard sport and many potential athletes will not give it a try. There is so much
good with the sport but getting [new runners] to give it a shot is hard. Beyond that keeping them for the first 3 weeks
is hard. This sport is all about hard work and I don’t care if a [potential runner] is going to be an All-American
someday, the first few weeks they will think they are not very good due to the level of the kids already with us. The
experienced kids know this, and between me and them, we encourage constantly.”
Believe in the team.
Coach Paxton continues to build successful teams, year after year, but claims it has little to do with coaching.
“Anyone can give or manage a workout. It’s the kids buy in and belief in each other, their ownership and willingness
to go all out and to work every day due to the team culture that makes programs.”
It goes beyond running.
And for Matt Paxton these championships and relationships go beyond Unioto High School cross-country and track.
“My greatest accomplishment is watching one of our runners find success in real life after school. Especially when
they may have lacked structure or confidence when they started with us. Seeing them learn a lesson that actually
carries over to their life after school is the greatest accomplishment. That’s bigger than any accomplishment in the