INDEPENDENCE — After years of hoping, Eli Cirino is getting his wish.

Central High Athletic Director Shane Hedrick announced on Thursday that Cirino would become the coach of the Panthers’ cross-country teams starting this fall.

Cirino will continue to coach the boys and girls track and field squads.

“I’ve been coaching cross-country at the middle school for the last three years, so this felt like a natural fit for me,” Cirino said. “Coaching both track and cross-country is something I’ve aspired to do for a long time.”

When the position became available, Cirino jumped at the chance.

“This job came open and it was a tremendous opportunity to be able to work with runners year round,” Cirino said. “From a selfish standpoint, I love working with these kids and now I won’t have to give them up to another coach during the fall.

“If you look at a lot of other schools, they have one coach for track and field and cross-country. Coupled with (Central) entering (Class) 5A, it’s an exciting time for Central athletics.”

Cirino said he was prepared to continue coaching the middle school program. But as enjoyable as that experience was, he’s prepared for a new challenge.

Former CHS coach Brad Simkins, who stepped down from the post earlier this summer, said there was little question in his mind who should lead the Panthers’ cross-country program.

“Coach Cirino is an outstanding coach and former top notch cross-country runner, which makes me feel very confident that the future of the program is in great hands,” Simkins said.

Cirino, who led the distance team for the Panthers’ track and field squad, said he expects a relatively easy transition getting used to coaching cross-country at the high school level this fall.

“The biggest thing is the amount of running I’m able to ask kids to do,” Cirino said. “In middle school, they may be a runner but can only run four miles by the end of the season. In high school, I have kids who can do 10 to 13 miles in one run. It’s my job to help everyone get their miles in and develop.”

Cirino said he is working on developing a feel for how his team may look come this fall. He’s not just focusing on his top athletes, but on making the team welcome and fun for anyone who joins, regardless of their fitness level and speed.

“I firmly believe that running is a lifetime sport,” Cirino said. “We’re not going to cut anyone. We’re not going to run anyone off the team or make them feel bad because they’re not as fast as someone else.

“We’re going to embrace everyone because not everyone is doing this to finish first, but to get that feeling of accomplishment once they finish a race or a training run.”

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