SPASH. (Metro Wire photo)

SPASH Boys Cross Country team, coaches, honored by county prior to HOF induction

Metro Wire Staff

Portage County recently honored the SPASH Boys Cross Country team, along with co-head coaches Donn Behnke and Kevin Hopp, and runners Ethan Olds and Cooper Erickson, for their sportsmanship.

The coaches have built one of the most successful cross-country programs in the state, creating an environment where running is fun and fostering lifelong friendships among team members.

While their teams have enjoyed success, the coaches emphasize that true winning is measured by the values and morals instilled in their runners. Coach Behnke’s book, “The Animal Keepers,” reflects on his high school running years under his favorite English teacher and coach, Coach Leo Potochnik.

Potochnik’s gift of “communication, making every student feel seen, heard, valued, and mattered, continues to influence the SPASH Cross Country coaching staff,” Behnke said in a statement.

Hopp, now part of the coaching team, emphasizes the importance of communication and honesty in building connections and respect among the team. Despite having 117 runners, all are accepted, none are cut from the team, and all line up at the starting line on race day. The coaches prioritize getting to know each runner and letting them know they matter, creating a positive and inclusive team culture.

With 13 state titles, 9 runner-up titles, and 22 state trophies in 47 years, Behnke and Hopp have brought recognition to the sport and their school. But Behnke said he believes that what truly matters is the relationships he has with the kids, emphasizing that trophies are fun but not important.

The 1994 SPASH Boys Cross Country team, coached by Behnke and featuring Hopp as a runner, will be inducted into the SPASH Hall of Fame on April 13 at SentryWorld Atrium.