Texas high schoolers receive Whippet experience

Benjamin Pierce, Managing Editor

Two high school cross country teams from opposite ends of the country share a special connection.

For more than 20 years, the cross country team from Houston MacArthur High School in Houston, Texas has competed in Janesville each fall. They spend time sight-seeing across the midwest and stay in Whitewater with the family of Whippets head coach Chad Carstens.

The tradition started in the mid 1990s, when Hugh Gnatzig was a basketball coach and teacher at Whitewater High School. His brother Larry took the cross country coaching position at Houston MacArthur, which got them to talking about the differences in the schools. The brothers and the Whitewater cross country coach at the time, Dirk Seibold, wanted the students to experience the different lifestyles.

Whitewater High School has around 575 students, while the Texas school has more than 3,300 for grades 10-12 alone. The school’s senior class is larger than the entire student population at WHS.

“It’s a lot different environment,” current Whitewater head coach Chad Carstens said.

The students from Texas came to Whitewater Friday, Sept. 21 and attended class with the Whitewater students in the morning before the teams shared dinner at night. They received a tour of the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater campus as well.

For the Texans, it was an eye opening experience according to current head coach and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater alumnus Kelly Silha.

“There were a lot of comparisons,” he said with a laugh. “From dress codes to facial hair policies to discipline, there are are a lot of differences. These are inner city Houston kids, so this was all new to them.”

There was a lot to talk about for the 13 MacArthur students and the Whippet athletes.

“It was a smashing success,” Carstens said. “Our building was so proud to host them, and some of the Houston students were joining in on class discussions and lesson plans. One of their students said that it seems like everybody enjoys learning here in Whitewater.”

For MacArthur senior Jonathon Blanco, the trips to Whitewater are something he will miss greatly about high school. This year was his favorite.

“There is such an immense difference. We are from Houston and we have a giant school. To come here is an amazing experience. We love to see Whitewater.”

Blanco’s favorite part was the environment.

“The hills, the open space, the air is so clean. Wisconsin is such a beautiful place, and it’s so welcoming,” he said.

The MacArthur team headed back to Texas Sunday, but the experiences on both sides will last forever according to the coaches.

“They get to experience things they wouldn’t in inner city Houston,” Carstens said. “How many schools in the country have this kind of relationship even in the same state, let alone across this distance?”

Silha, too, is glad the students can learn from each other.

“Everybody was asking each other questions, and I think it was a neat experience for everybody,” Silha said. “I think it was a win-win because we all learned something this week. It opens doors for the students. It opens their minds to see that they can do anything they set their minds to, no matter where they’re from.”