From the mighty small-school program able to stand up against the biggest and best in the state, the key contributors to the Lyons boys cross country team’s four straight state titles from 2012-2015 have long since moved on. It just doesn’t feel that way.
Brought back to their dynasty run all these years later by the memories and lasting friendships from those golden teams, the core principles entwined in the running culture at Lyons are carried on.
“Our coaches always stressed servant leadership,” said 2016 Lions graduate Joel Such from the Colombian Andes. “That was possibly the most profound takeaway from my high school running career. I apply it in my everyday life, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.”
Servant leadership: An ideal that is to serve others, to lead through selflessness in lieu of self-importance.
Fueled from his Christian values, Lyons coach Mark Roberts long ago made this the staple to his cross country and track and field programs.
“I remember reading a story about (longtime Dallas Cowboys coach) Tom Landry after they won their first Super Bowl, and this is before Tom Landry became a Christian, and he just talked about this sense of emptiness after winning the Super Bowl,” Roberts said. “His whole life had been about getting to that pinnacle and reaching it, then reaching it and recognizing in the moment, ‘What’s next? What’s the next hill I climb?’.”
Roberts made sure the accomplishments at Lyons would be far greater than trophies and accolades.
“It truly is about the opportunity for kids to grow in their character and maturity and their willingness to give back,” Roberts said.
On a basic level, it’s acts of service. His teams can often be seen with trash bags during their warmups — especially after football games from the night before — as runners use their stretch-it-out jog as a chance to pick up scraps around the school field.
Deeper, though, it’s the moments after Paul Roberts’ history-making fourth straight individual title in 2015.
After crossing the line, breaking precedent, the future All-American collegiate runner simply looked back onto the course to cheer his teammates into the finish.
“I think Paul is by far the best example of that,” 2015 Lyons grad Matt Dillon said. “He was a very good runner and still is — fantastic runner, one of the best. But he was never out there seeking credit for what he did, at least that is not the impression that I got. He was always out there to make the team better, help his teammates and ultimately give credit back to God.”
During the 2013 season a flood left the town of Lyons in ruin, leaving families displaced and often seeking refuge with others in the community. The boys cross country team, the most dominant of any of the dynasty years, used an all-for-one mentality to find solace and bonds inside and out of the sport.
That October, the Lions swept the Class 2A state race, going a perfect one-two-three in the classification’s top-three-runner scoring system. They were so good they were one of just 25 teams to qualify for Nike Cross Regionals in the five-state southwest region — which includes Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. Coach Roberts said they were the smallest program to qualify that year and could have been the smallest program to ever make the cut.
A team, its bond, knew no bounds.
“Basically, (the idea of servant leadership is that) you’re not there to serve yourself,” said 2014 graduate Marcel Such, who took second behind Roberts at the 2013 meet and was followed in by brother Joel. “You’re supposed to work hard and use your skills and achievements to bring up others. It’s why we were so dominant. After I graduated, I still showed up at all the meets to support the younger kids to help them succeed and achieve their dreams and surpass me if they could.”
Since, the kids have grown up.
The Such brothers have become well-respected figures in the wildlife community. Marcel travels as a wildlife biologist while Joel is currently in South America working as a conservation photographer, bird guide and field researcher as he works on a degree in conservation biology and art. Back then, the two were known to identify multiple species of birds during runs.
Dillon, meanwhile, is pursuing a degree in law at Pepperdine. He graduated from CU with a degree in piano performance last year.
Paul Roberts recently graduated from Wyoming with an economics degree. He was an All-American runner at both CSU-Pueblo and with the Cowboys.
Other state runners from 2012-15 include Ryan Boucher, Heath Fesenmeyer, Landon Milbrath, Adam Crowl, Cameron Cross and Colton Jonjak-Plahn.
“I think looking back on it, it all seems clumped together,” Paul said. “Like hey, we won four years in a row. That’s what we wanted to do. Good. But it’s kind of surreal, the experiences we had and the opportunities we have. I do sometimes take it for granted, but looking back, it was a unique journey for sure.”
Details of the Dynasty: Lyons boys cross country
Coach: Mark Roberts. Assistant coach is Jeff Boelé.
Dynasty years: Between 2012 and 2015, Lyons won four state titles in Class 2A and was by far the classification’s most dominant force. Led by Paul Roberts, who became the only four-time boys’ cross country champion in state history in 2015, the small-school program would’ve held its own against the top programs in 5A, 4A and 3A. Per MileSplit, the Lions would have finished eighth among all programs at the 2013 state meet.
Major Players: Paul Roberts, Joel Such, Marcel Such, Matt Dillon, Ryan Boucher, Heath Fesenmeyer, Landon Milbrath, Adam Crowl, Cameron Cross and Colton Jonjak-Plahn.
Most dominant moment: The 2013 team went one-two-three at the Class 2A state meet in 2013. Paul Roberts won his second individual title in 16 minutes, 19 seconds — the second-fastest across all classifications on the day. Then-senior Marcel Such followed in at 16:27, which was third fastest throughout, and third was Joel Such in 16:51. The team’s finish —that also included Matt Dillon (17:56) and Heath Fesenmeyer (18:53) — landed the Lions into the Nike Cross National Championships Southwest Regionals. There, the tiny 200-something-student school competed with programs more than 10 times its size.