They did it for “Merb” — their ailing coach’s nickname, who now can fulfill his vow to shred the T-shirt he used to motivate his team.
The Brookstone boys cross country team won the city championship for the first time in school history Tuesday night on the 5-kilometer course at Shaw High School.
The Cougars nipped Northside by one point and prevailed over defending champion Columbus by seven points. And they dedicated the victory to coach Mark Erb, who is battling Parkinson’s disease.
“This means everything to us,” said Brookstone senior Ryan Drew. “This group of guys has been fighting together, and we really wanted to rally around and win this for us and win this for our coach. He’s invested in us, and it’s our way to pay him back.”
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While the disease forced Erb to leave the team for more than a month during the season, assistant coaches Todd Pate and Alex Chapman filled in until he returned several weeks ago.
Erb has been a successful cross country coach for 35 years, first in the metro Atlanta area and then from 2009-13 at Columbus High. To motivate his Cougars, he wore to practice his T-shirt emblazoned with the titles he won with the Blue Devils, who beat Brookstone by three points in last year’s city championship race. If the Cougars finally won the title, he told them, he would shred the shirt in front of the assembled Brookstone students.
He plans to deliver on that promise Monday.
“It’s nothing against Columbus; I just absolutely love these guys,” Erb said. “We didn’t have the big-time stud that was going to be first, but we packed them in pretty tight.”
Indeed, Brookstone’s victory came from its depth. The top five Cougars finished third, sixth, eighth, 11th and 14th.
“I think we all just had the heart,” Drew said.
Boys team standings: 1. Brookstone 42; 2. Northside 43; 3. Columbus 49; 4. Jordan 139; 5. Calvary Christian 147; 6. Hardaway 149; 7. Spencer 173.
Boys top 10 finishers out of 49 runners: 1. Columbus senior Andrew White 16:21.79; 2. Calvary Christian freshman Andrew McGinnis; 3. Brookstone senior Caleb Pattillo 16:53.99; 4. Northside junior Ben Thompson 16:57.02; 5. Northside senior Jonathan Myrthil 17:13.15; 6. Brookstone senior Briggs Kalish 17:18.71; 7. Columbus junior Christopher Hunter 17:26.03; 8. Brookstone senior Sid Saber 17:29.22; 9. Northside senior Jack Forbes 17:29.88; 10. Columbus senior Michael Williams 17:47.53.
In the girls race, comprising 34 runners, defending champion Columbus swept the top five places: junior Heaven Allen 20:58.87 (who repeated as the individual winner), sophomore Laura Kate Holden 22:02.76, freshman Julia Goga 22:03.87, sophomore Mallie McRae 22:27.18 and junior Frances Spikes 22:28.77.
It’s the fifth straight city championship for the Columbus girls. And without a senior among that top five, the Blue Devils are primed for more.
Columbus coach Danielle McCoy said she told her Blue Devils around Labor Day, “This is where we’ve been, and if you like winning and this is what you want to continue, to have that tradition, then this is what it’s going to take.”
McCoy has been pleased with their response.
“They came out and they set expectations,” she said, “and we as coaches have our expectations, and some of them have gone above and beyond.”
Rounding out the top 10 were Northside senior Olyvia Brock 22:28.88, Columbus junior Courtney Fortuanato 22:35.73, Brookstone senior Emma Yancey 22:44.36, Brookstone freshman Stella Yancey 23:05.12 and Shaw senior Kenyanna Davis 23:08.80.
Girls team standings: 1. Columbus 15; 2. Northside 55; 3. Brookstone 71; 4. Jordan 109.
THIS WEEK’S SCHDULE
Thursday, Oct. 18
Carver vs. Shaw at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 19
Spencer vs. Temple at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
Columbus vs. Hardaway at Kinnett Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
Kendrick at Westside-Macon, 7:30 p.m.
Brookstone at Central-Talbotton, 7:30 p.m.
Thomas County Central at Harris County, 7:30 p.m.
Manchester at Greenville, 7:30 p.m.
Community Christian at Calvary Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Central-Phenix City at Jefferson Davis, 8 p.m.
Russell County at Park Crossing, 8 p.m.
Lee-Scott at Glenwood, 8 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 20
Northside at Colquitt County
Wednesday, Oct. 17
Class AAAAA state playoffs, best-of-three second round, Harris County at South Effingham, 4 p.m. doubleheader. If necessary, Game 3 will be Thursday.
Class A private state playoffs, best-of-three second round, Brookstone at George Walton, 1 p.m. doubleheader.
Thursday, Oct. 18
Class AAAA state playoffs, best-of-three second round, Mary Persons at Northside, 5 p.m. doubleheader. If necessary, Game 3 would be Friday at 5 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 20
Class AAAAA state playoffs, first round, Dutchtown at Harris County, 1:30 p.m.
Class AAAA state playoffs, first round: Luella at Columbus; Northside vs. Druid Hills at Perry; Shaw on the road vs. Eastside at site TBD; Hardaway at Woodward Academy. Times TBA.
Class AAA state playoffs, first round, Kendrick at Savannah Arts, 1 p.m.
Class AA/A public state playoffs, first round, Jordan vs. TBD, at Woodville-Tompkins, noon.
Class AA/A state playoffs, first round, Brookstone vs. Atlanta International, site TBD
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.