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Michigan Scholars Sprint Back to NHA Statewide Cross Country Meet

National Heritage Academies scholars in Michigan laced up their running shoes and put on their school’s jersey for the NHA Cross Country State Meet.
Scholars from 24 Michigan NHA schools made the trip to Lansing to compete with 165 boys and 145 girls all running the two-mile long course.
This year’s meet took place on May 18 at Hawk Island Park with a full return to participation after COVID pandemic restrictions limited the event for the previous three years.
Matt Sicilia, a physical education teacher and athletic director at Excel Charter Academy, organizes the meet annually. He said the meet’s participation levels were the highest they’ve been since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The most teams we’ve ever had is 28,” Sicilia said. “Last year we had 16 teams. So we’re kind of getting back toward normal, which is great.”

Ivan Romero running.
Ivan Cahue Romero, a sixth-grade student at Vanderbilt Charter Academy, runs the two-mile long race at Hawk Island Park in Lansing.

The road to the state meet started with weekly competition within regions, which led up to a conference meet that was split between the East and West sides of Michigan. The top seven runners from each school at the conference meets qualified for the NHA Cross Country State Meet.
In the leadup to the meet, Sicilia hired a timing company to keep track of the results, put up cones to show where the course was, and was even the official starter for the event.
De-Mani Roberts from Excel Charter Academy won the boys’ race with a time of 11 minutes, 32.4 seconds, and Gray Cole from Cross Creek Charter Academy won the girls’ race in 13:24.0. The Excel Charter Academy boys and the Achieve Charter Academy girls won the team competitions.
 A group of boys running.
A group of boys from several National Heritage Academies schools run at NHA’s Michigan statewide cross country meet on May 18.

Even with the competitive juices flowing, sportsmanship was always in the front of the minds of the scholars. When competitors stepped on the starting line, Sicilia led them in a sportsmanship pledge. The pledge encourages scholars to show good sportsmanship, try their best, and show great teamwork. It’s not surprising that Excel has outperformed the local district for the past 13 years.
Competitors in all sports at NHA sporting events come together pregame to recite the pledge together and show good sportsmanship.
The pledge seemed to work for scholars. Sicilia said they were cheering each other on the entire race.
 Gray Cole running.
Gray Cole, a seventh-grade student at Cross Creek Charter Academy, won the girls’ two-mile long race, crossing the line in 13 minutes, 24 seconds.

“The kids are so supportive of their teammates,” Sicilia said. “Some of the top finishers went back out to different sections of the course and walked with teammates, or encouraged them. They even encouraged their opponents as they finished and gave each other high fives. It’s such a great event in that way.”
Sicilia, who has experience coaching high school and college track and field and cross country, said the sport offers scholars more than just the opportunity to compete.
“There’s a big picture in mind for these kids,” he said. “There’s an atmosphere and an event where they can participate, work hard, and do some healthy things with a bunch of teammates. They’re reaping the health benefits, social benefits, and practicing healthy lifestyle habits.”

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About Excel Charter Academy
Excel Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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