GREAT BARRINGTON — Wednesday was an emotional day at Monument Mountain High School, as the Spartan cross country team dedicated a memorial to its late coach, Chris Unsworth, before the seniors embarked on the final home meet of their careers.
Unsworth died in July after a battle with cancer at age 48, survived by his parents and three siblings.
Boys’ cross country coach, and Unsworth’s longtime friend, Ted Collins, new girls’ cross country coach Scott Annand and senior runner Grace Phair, flanked by fellow seniors Megan Mulvey and Sydni Viola, all spoke to the assembled crowd of family, friends and the competing teams at the dedication ceremony.
A stone marking his name and the dates of his coaching tenure now sits on the front lawn of the high school engraved with a quote from the movie “McFarland USA,” which he and his team watched each season, that says, “We fly like blackbirds through the orange groves, floating on a warm wind when we run, we own the earth.”
The memorial was placed on the front lawn of the school, right next to the roadway in and out of the parking lot. It is also the finish line at home meets.
“It just kind of means he’s with us when we’re running,” Mulvey said of the location of the memorial’s placement. “Giving us that extra strength to do well on our last home meet. He’ll be there at the finish line, so we’ll be running to him.”
During his time as coach, Unsworth stressed to his runners the importance of performing well at home.
“Our home course was always something that Uns was determined we do really well on because we’re the most comfortable there,” Viola said. “I think that having the ceremony before will really make us run in remembrance of him.”
With their careers coming to an end in such emotional fashion, Elena Brown reminisced upon her first home meet and how far she progressed under the tutelage of Unsworth.
“I remember our first race, he was still explaining the course to me and I still didn’t know where to go,” Brown said. “I think this will be a real swap, because I’m going to be telling the freshmen now where to go, where to turn.”
Annand, the former assistant principal and now science teacher at Monument stepped in as coach as a familiar face for the established members of the team, something he felt was important to help the healing in process.
“All I knew is that I wanted to come in and try to support these young ladies in the way I knew how, knowing that I’m a different coach, a different person,” Annand said. “I just said come in and work hard, have fun and everything takes care of itself.”
He said it took some time to find footing and to balance the way he likes to coach with the established order that Unsworth had in place, but the team came together as he had hoped.
“He’s coming into a team and trying to put it back together,” Phair said. “I don’t think I would have wanted anyone else to come in.”
As the ceremony wound down and the teams prepared to depart for the starting line, Annand stepped to the front of the crowd to say a few words. As he looked upon the crowd, he hypothesized what Unsworth would say to them.
“Life is precious,” Annand said. “Life goes on, and he’d want us to seize the moment and the day.”