Team Traditions: Boys Cross Country

For the Boys Cross Country team, Friday practices look a little different


Peter Elliott, Editor

Cross country may require the least equipment and attire of all high school sports. All that is needed are shorts, shoes, and a t-shirt. Many runners look like they’ve come straight out of an eighth-period gym class.

Most days, when hordes of Lake Forest runners set out for their daily runs on local roads and bike paths, they look and act the part as they’re often clad in Lake Forest-branded athletic gear, striving to run hard and complete their workouts.

But on Fridays, members of the team look less like they’re training for a meet, and more like they’re en-route to a pool party.

That is because Friday practices signify more than the final team outing of the school week; it is time for a treasured weekly tradition known as “Swimsuit Friday,” in which team members trade their athletic shorts for swim trunks.

For over a decade, the boys cross country team has run down to the Lake Bluff Beach on Fridays, but only in 2017 did the team decide wearing swimsuits would be a natural addition to their aquatic tradition. It has since caught on and become a much-celebrated ritual that represents the culmination of a laborious week of practice and serves as both a physical remedy and time for relaxation.

“It is definitely the highlight of the training week,” says senior Carson Ward. “I look forward to it the whole day on Friday.”

Rain or shine, from the dog days of August through chilly fall October weeknights, Swimsuit Friday is rarely scratched from the training schedule. Later in the season, when the water is at its coldest, members of the team have no choice but to dig their toes in the sand and try to drown their frigidness in conversation.

“I feel there’s something about suffering together that brings a group closer,” said head coach Matt Jerina, in his ninth year with the team. “The water gets pretty cold; it helps the team bond for sure.”

The Boys Cross Country team poses for a photo during their weekly “Swimsuit Friday” tradition.

While there are no guidelines on swimsuit style, Jerina and the coaching staff have installed a handful of strictly-enforced rules that govern the tradition: runners must submerge themselves up to their knees, there is no dunking, and the team must spend exactly 15 minutes in the water.

Running shoes are also not optional, so attempting to complete the ensemble with flip-flops is a no-go.

By its very nature, Swimsuit Friday encourages, or rather, forces conversation, because suffering in silence is no fun. This conversational aspect can be incredibly unifying for a team that is often segregated between varsity and junior varsity during practices. These groups have different training plans and complete their workouts separately, so Swimsuit Friday is the sole time every week that the team runs as a single unit.  

I think it is unique because of how it brings the team together,” said Ward. “The team is rarely always doing the same thing during practice. But every single person on the team goes down to the water at the same time and the vast majority of people, even the freshmen, wear swimsuits.”

In a sport that is decidedly non-flashy and offers little opportunity for charisma to break through the pained yet focused faces of runners, Swimsuit Friday allows for personalities to shine via their choice of swimwear. The style of swimsuits runs the gamut from floral to patriotic patterns. 

Senior Henry Bernhart is considered the leader in the clubhouse for “best swimsuit” ― an end-of-season award that doesn’t yet exist but should ― as his flower-emblazoned swimsuit has turned heads.

“Bernie is always one for flare and style, so it’s no surprise that he goes all out with his fancy swimsuits,” said senior Ryan Peters. “He definitely sets the bar for everyone else to match his flashiness.”

Senior Henry Bernhart (left) walks to the water in style, donning his floral swimsuit alongside senior Alex Mutter (right).

Not only does the tradition provide a nice reprieve for the team before its Saturday invitational meets, but it has plenty of added health benefits. 

“The cold water can help calm down some of the inflammation that the runners get over a week of hard training,” Jerina pointed out. “But as a coach that I used to work with would say, it also, ‘toughens ‘em up.’”

Additionally, running to the beach serves as a much more feasible recovery method than cramming 50 runners into the training room ice baths.

“My freshman year, we didn’t [wear swimsuits] and the team didn’t make sectionals,” recalls Ward. “The past two years, when we have [worn swimsuits], we have made it to sectionals and state, respectively. You tell me if that’s a coincidence or not.”

But whether or not Swimsuit Friday has translated to postseason success, it has done nothing if not bring the team closer.

“Swimsuit Friday is an example of how it’s not the activity, but whom you are with that makes something fun. We have a great group of guys on the [cross country] team, to the point that they can make standing in frigid water a memorable experience.”

The Lake Bluff Beach may be closed for the season, but the cross country team will continue to brave the chilly waters and make themselves at home every week for 15 minutes at a time.