Last fall, Maryland School for the Deaf had a cross-country team for the first time since the early 1990s.

Well, the word “team” was a little misleading at first.

“One [runner] wanted to try,” Orioles coach Randy Shank said. “So I set it up with one.”

But other runners soon joined. Not a slew of them, of course.

Being a small school, MSD doesn’t have too many athletes to spare in the fall, when most of them play for the school’s perennially powerful football and volleyball teams.

But there was enough interest to sustain the cross-country program, which is now in its second season since being revived.

The program gives MSD students another path toward earning a varsity letter. And like their cross-country brethren at other schools, runners can derive the satisfaction of making progress, however slightly, in their sport.

“They enjoy it. The kids are hungry,” Shank said. “They want to run, they want to improve. Lowering their times, they get all excited.”

It’s been awhile since such things were said at MSD in the fall. The Orioles cross-country team appears to have disbanded after the 1993 season, not for lack of recent success.

Heading into the 1992 season, the Orioles girls were gunning for their fifth straight Deaf Athletes Federation of the United States title, while the boys also had good reason for optimism. Nancy Benton coached both teams.

“We hope to challenge for the Deaf Athletics Federation championship,” Benton told The News-Post in 1992, referring to the boys team.

Such titles aren’t available these days. An attempt was made to set up a national meet this year.

“But it collapsed. Not enough schools could go,” Shank said. “We’re still small.”

MSD has seven runners this year, four boys and three girls. There are also two middle-school runners.

Shank seemed like a logical choice to coach the team because he coaches MSD’s track and field teams. But heading into last season, the former middle-distance runner and longtime track coach was a cross-country novice.

“This is a new experience for me,” he said.

And while Shank’s track teams often have athletes who play other sports during the same season, his cross-country teams are comprised of athletes who don’t play football or volleyball.

The first runner to come out for last year’s team was Esteban Kovacs, and he turned out to be a good one. He ran a respectable time of 18 minutes, 30 seconds at last year’s Frank Keyser Invitational at Boonsboro.

Kovacs graduated after last season, although his sister Estelina Kovacs is on the team.

The Orioles usually stick to meets with other private schools that compete on a similar level. At last Wednesday’s dual meet against Covenant Life, MSD’s Crosse Herpin won the boys race, and Kovacs placed second in the girls race.

The Orioles have six meets on this year’s schedule, although two have been wiped out by rain. Next up is Tuesday’s meet at St. Anselm’s.

As always, the goal is to improve times.

“At the end of the season, it’s a nice experience,” Shank said.

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