DANVILLE — Monday’s summons to the principal’s office was unexpected. Chrisman cross-country junior Wyatt Avenatti couldn’t imagine the reason.
“I saw the conference (championship) plaque on a table and thought they were going to talk about how good we did,” Avenatti said.
Principal Nancy Dalenberg didn’t gather the runners from the Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman cooperative team for a feel-good session.
She had a somber message, that Linda Kulbartz — wife of cross-country coach Tom Kulbartz — passed away unexpectedly Sunday.
“The girls and a couple guys started crying,” Avenatti said. “I was depressed.”
Tuesday’s annual Vermilion County meet at Kickapoo State Park was the first that “Mrs. Coach” — as the team called her — wasn’t a visible presence charting mile splits and yelling encouraging words to the passing runners.
Kevin Coe, the Buffaloes’ junior high cross-country coach, filled in for Tom Kulbartz on Tuesday. He had a brief message for the team.
“I told the girls and boys to run inspired and dedicate the week to Mrs. Coach,” Coe said. “They ran with heavy hearts but had the will to do well.”
The performance met the desire.
Megan McKee was the individual winner in the girls’ race by 31 seconds. Avenatti placed third in the boys’ race and was one of four G-RF/C all-county runners as the program captured team honors for the 11th time in 13 years.
McKee overtook the conference champion to post her first individual win. Tuesday wasn’t a day for strategy.
“I didn’t have a plan,” she said, trying to hold back tears, “just run as fast as I could. I ran with her on my mind and thought of Coach and the family.”
Avenatti and teammates visited Tom Kulbartz after practice Monday.
“He was beyond devastated,” Avenatti said. “We got him to laugh a little and cheered him up a little.”
There will be more smiles when he learns of his team’s success.
“Coach K’s training program gets us ready for these kinds of meets,” Avenatti said.
Tyler Owen, Lane Avenatti and Colton Wyatt were the team’s other all-county runners. Caleb Farnsworth and Byron Brinkley were among the top 12.
“I’ve coached them in junior high, and they’re capable of a lot,” Coe said. “The reality is, four of them were junior high all-staters (both Avenattis, Owen and Brinkley). They were focused and ready. I’m proud how they responded.”
Other highlights were Hoopeston Area’s girls’ team, coached by Rich Stipp, winning its seventh consecutive team crown and Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac runners Jon Davis and Emmerson Grey taking the top two spots in the boys’ 3-mile race.