Trumbull makes plans for athletics

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Niles graduate Briana Ellwood (left), a soon-to-be Kent State Trumbull sophomore, is the first committed runner to the Golden Flashes cross country program. With her is coach Bill Hess.

CHAMPION — Bill Hess saw the vast space, green grass surrounding the campus of Kent State University Trumbull Campus.

He’s run the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving mornings, a road race in which a 2-mile circuit runs around the Trumbull County Technical Center up the road. The 5-mile race spans around the KSU Trumbull Campus, spurning an idea within Hess’ brain.

Why not bring distance running to the Golden Flashes’ grounds? He reached out to the powers-that-be on campus.

“I always drove by this campus and thought there should be cross country here,” Hess said. “I emailed them and they eventually got back to me. They were looking for a sport. Actually, it was perfect timing.

“They want to start out as a club and in two years make it an intercollegiate sport.”

Hess, 52, started coaching cross country at Ursuline High School in 1987. He then started coaching at Niles McKinley High School and Niles Middle School starting in 2007.

Hess, a 1982 Niles graduate, ran cross country at Youngstown State from 1984 to 1987. He also competed in track and field.

Hess is targeting athletes like Niles graduate Briana Ellwood, a former Red Dragons distance runner.

She is the first runner to commit to the program, but said he’s hoping to get at least three to four more male runners to join her at this point.

She said she didn’t have many options to run elsewhere coming out of Niles, but is grateful for this opportunity heading into her sophomore season. Those are the kind of athletes Hess wants to recruit.

“I still run on my own,” said Ellwood, who had Hess as her middle school coach. “When Bill told me about it, it made me happy. I realized I’m actually going to be competing again and doing something I love.”

Michelle Adkins, KSU Trumbull program coordinator and staff advisor for women’s and men’s cross country, said the season starts in late August to early September and goes through early November.

“He was looking to coach a college team,” Adkins said. “We were looking to put one together. It was a beautiful marriage, if you will, to meet one of the needs we have here at the campus.”

Lance Grahn, KSU Trumbull Dean and Chief Administrative Officer, said cross country is an attempt to bring sports programs back to campus.

Basketball, volleyball and golf were the last sports at KSU Trumbull. Those programs ended in 1992. The University is looking at adding other sports such as bowling and archery at later dates.

Hess will be on staff on a volunteer basis, but Grahn said he’ll see where it goes from there.

“Students are looking for a fuller college experience,” Grahn said. “One of the ways in which we could give students that fuller college college experience, even like a commuter campus like ours, was with organized athletics.”

Hess, who is the team’s only coach, said KSU Trumbull will compete against schools like Thiel, Hiram, YSU and Westminster.

For him, this job is a calling — something he realized when he’s attended the Turkey Trot.

“The Turkey Trot bring thousands of people,” Hess said. “If we can get that many people, this would be a great area. We’ve got lots of land out here.

“To me, it’s a perfect place to have it.”