Two Mill Creek Middle students are making their mark on the school’s cross-country team.
Eighth graders Daniel Varnell and Sophia Cox are part of the school’s Top Mavs group, which includes students in the building with the highest needs, and they’ve found their passion in running. Daniel has been on the cross-country team for three years, and Sophia is competing for the first time.
“I’ve had the privilege of having both Daniel and Sophia in the classroom the past three years, and I’ve watched them grow into young adults who have a sense of pride, confidence and determination that is unmatched,” said MCMS student support and Top Mavs teacher Katie Shyamsunder. “They set goals and crush them. They are consistently finishing in the top half of their group. They’ve loved running for as long as I have known them.”
Chris Cox, Sophia’s father, says that she really began running in March of 2020. When the pandemic began, they went on walks around the neighborhood to help Sophia deal with missing school and friends.
“As the weather started to warm up, all she wanted to do was walk,” said Cox. “Eventually she started running ahead of me, and I would struggle to keep up. Once school started back last fall, Sophia would constantly ask her teachers to take her outside to run. After some encouragement from her teacher, we decided to sign her up for cross-country.”
Daniel’s running career began in fourth grade when he participated in the Nolensville Community Marathon.
“That’s when I first noticed he liked to run and would continue long after his peers started walking,” said Daniel’s mother Rachel Varnell. “In fifth grade, he was able to express that he really liked it, and we decided to have him try out for cross-country in sixth grade. We were unsure about him running out of sight, but the coaches and the team were very supportive. It ended up being great.”
Participating in cross-country helped both Daniel and Sophia become more confident, according to their parents. Shyamsunder has noticed the same.
“Being a part of this team has brought them new friendships,” said Shyamsunder. “When they see their teammates in the hall, they high five or say hello. They have meaningful conversations in class. They arrive to school every morning with a smile on their faces.”
The Nolensville High cross-country team can expect to see Daniel and Sophia next year.
“Sophia will 100 percent continue to run,” said Cox. “She runs every day even when her team takes the day off. We will for sure be talking with the coach at the high school and having her try out.”
Daniel’s experience on the team also has him rethinking his goals after school.
“His love of sports has him trying to rededicate himself to school so he can graduate, go to college and become a PE coach, at Mill Creek Middle, of course,” said Varnell. “I feel that both he and Sophia are great examples of what can be done when the community rallies around us and encourages full participation and inclusion.”