TURNER — Friday’s snow-coated roads and far-below-zero wind chill persuaded many communities in the region to cancel school and postpone games and practices for the second straight day.

You wouldn’t have detected any of that by observing the Leavitt Area High School Nordic ski team.

The Hornets waxed their skis while sequestered in the relatively climate-controlled comfort of their clubhouse adjacent to Libby Field. Cheerful chatter flowed freely. Smiles and laughter were exchanged easily.

If anybody was upset about having to bundle up and venture outside in Yukon Cornelius conditions — fit for neither man nor beast — it didn’t show.

“Everyone just sees the amount of fun that we have,” senior Abby Chase said. “We include everyone. We support each other. I think that’s something everybody wants to be a part of.”

Leavitt athletes and coaches speak glowingly about the ski boosters, whose fundraising efforts provide everything from wax to grooming equipment to skis for students who want to compete but may not have the financial ability.

Judging from the atmosphere inside the Hornets’ ski building, the next big expenditure might involve building an addition.

The Hornets head into Saturday’s Telstar Relays in Bethel with 38 members — combined boys and girls — on their Nordic team.

Of the other 11 schools in the tri-county region that field a cross-country ski team, only two, Mt. Blue (23) and Dirigo (21), began the season with even half that many.

“In my 10 years that is the largest team. Last year I didn’t think it could get any larger, but it keeps on growing,” coach Dustin Williamson said. “It’s awesome to have great numbers.”

The team’s tradition is attractive. Since 2007, Leavitt’s girls have won three Class A state titles; the boys, two. Both teams placed third a year ago.

It takes more than that, however, to keep the talent pool overflowing in a sport that basically has a six-to-eight-week competition window each year, with no guarantee that weather will cooperate.

“I think we have a good mix of hard work and fun, and that’s why there are so many people on the team,” said senior Rylee Knox, a top-10 finisher in both Class A boys’ individual races at the 2013 state meet. “We have all kinds of levels, elite skiers that ski in the Eastern Cups and stuff and then we have juniors joining the team their first year. It’s just a fun team to be on.”

Knox and Chase are typical of the skiers that dominate Leavitt’s roster.

Each has been skiing on RSU 52 teams for six years, beginning with Brian Laflamme’s program at neighboring Tripp Middle School.

“It’s a good way to get started out. It’s not hugely competitive. You just go out there to have fun,” Chase said. “I think it’s nice to learn the technique and the team aspect of it. You develop relationships with the other team members and it goes throughout high school. You don’t want to do anything else. You just love it so much.”

The team and the boosters have two major fundraisers each year. There is a bottle drive (“I think we hit every house in three towns,” Knox said) in the fall and the annual Hornet Classic, a festival scheduled this year on Saturday, Jan. 11.

What keeps the athletes motivated during the spring, summer and autumn, they said, is Leavitt’s ski culture.

Just as football and basketball have camps, summer games and lifting and plyometric sessions, Leavitt’s Nordic skiers think snow when all they can see are gravel and pavement.

“We get together a lot of times outside of school in the summer, with a group of guys or a group of girls and go out roller skiing together,” Knox said. “This team is a team year-round. We motivate each other. We’re always checking in on each other.”

The chief beneficiary is Williamson, an Edward Little product who also maintains the popular and resourceful Maine High School Skiing website.

“There’s quite a few people who have had older siblings on the team and now they’re on the team. There are a lot of family names in Leavitt Nordic. Each year we get new kids with the same last names. It’s a huge tradition,” he said. “Kids talk about the fun and talk about the success, and other people hear about it and want to join it. There’s no bench. No cutting. Everybody participates.”

That lack of competition for playing time fosters team camaraderie.

Leavitt’s spacious ski building is a place where seniors can teach freshmen the finer points of such important elements as proper waxing in comfort, Knox said.

“It’s obviously a huge blessing at this time of year,” he added. “It gets cold.”

Saturday’s annual race at Telstar is the season-starter for many teams, but not Leavitt.

The team took a training and bonding trip to Fort Kent from Dec. 26 to 30. Despite the distance, expense and other holiday family commitments, Knox said more than 80 percent of the team was represented. They skied every morning and afternoon.

Many of the skiers also gravitate to cross-country running in the fall and track and field in the spring, keeping in shape as a group.

“We kind of stick together,” Chase said. “It’s not as competitive. It’s a lot more like you’re competing with yourself.”

To that end, the Hornets are a self-motivated bunch.

When both school and practice were called off Thursday, Williamson emailed an optional workout to Leavitt skiers.

“I know a lot of people got in a practice or some lifting at home,” Knox said. “There’s a lot of motivation within this team personally, not just when we’re at practice, but a lot of training I think goes on behind the scenes.”

Williamson isn’t surprised.

“I’ve had in the past some motivated, focused teams, but this team here ranks among the top,” he said. “The team focus is really strong. The motivation is super high.”

Even on the coldest days of the year.


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