Mann hands over Darton cross country teams to Skiles

Bruce Skiles, who has been a key contributer to the Darton cross country team as an assistant coach the last three seasons, will take over as head coach, replacing David Mann.

Bruce Skiles, who has been a key contributer to the Darton cross country team as an assistant coach the last three seasons, will take over as head coach, replacing David Mann.

ALBANY -- David Mann remembers a conversation he had with Bruce Skiles nearly three years ago.

The two men who were instrumental in starting the Darton College cross country program were confident they could build it into something special.

"Skiles said, 'We are going to build a legacy here,' " Mann said. "And indeed we did."

Since the program began four years ago, Darton has won five GJCAA titles, produced 50 All-Region XVII runners and saw his teams named Academic All-Americans each season.

On Wednesday, Mann officially stepped down as head coach of the men's and women's cross country teams and handed the jobs to Skiles, who has served as an assistant coach the last three seasons.

"It will be kind of tough letting go of it because I put so much into it," said Mann, who was named Region XVII Coach of the Year five times -- three for the men's program and two for the women's. "My family put so much into it. My wife drove one of our vans when she was pregnant with our first child. But I am starting something new and it gives me something to look forward to."

That "something new" will be Mann's new job as the school's director of sports information. He will also continue to serve as an assistant professor.

"I feel like the cross country program is established, and it's solid. I am ready to take on a new challenge at Darton and build something else that is totally new," said Mann, who had journalism experience before he attended graduate school and started coaching and teaching. "Now I get to combine that experience (as a reporter) with what I have as a coach and teacher. I think it will work out really well for me and Darton College."

Mann is also confident that he is leaving the cross country program in good hands.

"I wasn't going to leave the program unless it went to Bruce," Mann said.

Skiles brings quite the cross country resume to the table. He ran in high school in Pennsylvania, where he was a state champion in track & field in the mile, and continued his long-distance running career in college. He was an All-American at Penn State (Berks Campus) and finished his collegiate running career at Auburn.

Mann met Skiles, who now lives in Lee County, at the end of Darton's innuagural cross country season, and the two quickly became friends. Soon, Skiles was donating his land for the team to train on, run their home meets on and eventually he started showing up at practice each day.

"I was doing the training, and David helped me with recruiting. David would locate them, and I would anchor them down," said Skiles, who was able to watch his children, Brandon and Brittney, run for Darton while he helped with the team.

Brittney, who was Darton's first region champion, and Brandon both now run at Columbus State.

Skiles' new team had preseason time trials earlier this week and will begin the 2011 season Aug. 27 against its Region XVII opponents at South Georgia College.

And Skiles is confident that the Darton program will continue to be successful under his leadership.

"We are starting to get kids from all around the state. We even have a couple coming here from Georgia," Skiles said. "We are starting to make a name for ourselves. If a kid wants to go to a four-year school somewhere that's good, they come to us. Because I can destroy all the other JUCOs."

Mann said he will still be around the team in various roles, including the students' academic advisor and the occasional bus driver. What he will miss most, however, is the mindset he learned from cross country runners -- a mindset to get better each week and always push yourself to see how good you can become.

"I'll miss the mentality of cross country runners," Mann said. "The good ones always want to get better, and to get better is hard to do. They have to train every day, and the training hurts. It's self-inflicted pain. They pull themselves out of bed before the sun rises and know that they will have to push themselves past the point of pain for miles and miles. They train hard, then go to class, eat, train again, eat and sometimes train again.

"I'll miss being around people with this mindset -- to get better every week. The good ones, the David Marleys, the Brittney Skiles's and the Heath Lambs, to do better than they did the last week is their contstant focus, and they know and accept that they have to put themselves through hell to do it. I'll miss being a firsthand witness to that sort of discipline."

STRINGFIELD, CAJUSTE WIN PRESEASON TIME TRIALS: Darton's Jeronda Stringfield and Kingsley Cajuste outpaced eager teammates and set early standards in a preseason cross country time trial earlier this week.

Stringfield, a freshman from Pensacola, Fla., was ready to compete for the top time with sophomore Sha Wright to determine who might lead the team to another conference title. Wright suffered a cramp and didn't race well, leaving Stringfield and freshman Hayden Clapper, of Oviedo, Fla., at the front of the pack.

Clapper finished second, and Vanesa Pina, a freshman from Lee County, finished third to indicate there is a strong new class of freshmen athletes for the women's program.

Cajuste, a returning sophomore and the school's 8K record-holder from Kingsport, Bahamas, outran a dozen teammates to upset Lamb, also a sophomore, from Moultrie, who finished only seconds behind his teammate. Darton's Cody Mallchok, of Woodstock, finished third.

"We had a group of five or six on the men's team who finished very closely together," Skiles said. "Which shows that we have a lot of depth this year on the men's side. I was very pleased with Jeronda and Hayden (for the women's team). And look at Vanessa, our little girl from Lee County -- she's tearing it up out there!"