SCHENECTADY — Maazin Ahmed still can’t believe he won the Section II Class A cross country championship race. The Schenectady High School senior is still waiting for someone to pinch him and break the news he’s not really headed to Saturday’s state championships at Wayne Central School.
“I’m still in shock,” Ahmed said Thursday, nearly a week after the biggest win of his scholastic career. “I still don’t think I did it. I never thought I was capable of winning.”
All along, though, Ahmed’s coach thought the senior had it in him. That’s Ed Menis, who has guided Schenectady cross country runners for more than two decades, the guy who is just excited as his athlete to head to Saturday’s championships.
“From the outside,” Menis said, “I’ve always wondered about them.”
This year’s trip to the state championships is the first for Menis with one of his cross country runners. He’s patiently coached the Patriots since 1997, devoting countless hours to the program. With only an exception or two during his tenure, nobody from Schenectady has come particularly close to reaching states.
Through all those lean years, Menis said he never considered giving up the post. His teams have often been filled with athletes looking to stay fit for other sports and kids using the cross country season as a means to have an after-school activity, but that has not discouraged Menis.
“I enjoy pushing the kids and making them the best they can be, even if I know they’ll never reach the level of a Maazin,” Menis said. “It’s just good to see that growth.”
Often, success has been defined as when a kid sticks with the sport.
“Some fall into it and they love it,” said Menis, who is also the meet director of the Everett T. Grout Memorial Cross Country Invitational. “They love running even if they’re not going to be the best out there.”
There was a time when Schenectady dominated the area’s boys’ cross country scene. From 1950 to 1960, Linton, Mont Pleasant and Nott Terrace combined to take every Class A team championship and runner-up spot. Individually, runners at Schenectady public schools also dominated during that time.
But Ahmed’s sectional win was the first for a runner from a Schenectady public school since Mont Pleasant’s Ike Weston did it in 1979. In the days since Ahmed’s win, Menis said he’s had more than a couple veteran area coaches reach out to him to express their happiness in seeing a Schenectady kid back on top.
“They know we don’t have a Maazin every day, and it’s a good story for them to see, too,” Menis said. “They see the same people from Shen, Saratoga winning every year.”
Those schools compete at high-level invitationals each season, expecting to win. At Schenectady, the expectation is different.
“Here,” Menis said, “it’s about getting the kids involved.”
But there’s always the chance that can lead to something big. Ahmed started doing track and field in seventh grade, and Menis convinced Ahmed — a soccer player growing up — to give cross country a chance during his sophomore year.
A couple years later, Ahmed is committed to run in college at Georgetown University and has a shot to win a state title during Saturday’s 10 a.m. Class A boys’ race.
Ahmed said he never thought such things were possible for him. He kept pushing, though, because of the faith Menis showed in him. That’s why when Ahmed won his sectional title, his first thought was how much the win would mean to Menis.
Ahmed predicted his coach would cry. He was right.
“Since Day 1,” Ahmed said, “he believed I could make it.”
Before heading to Schenectady to work as a chemistry teacher, Menis worked as an engineer and coached at a variety of places and levels. Everywhere he went during his early coaching years, athletes advanced to state and national competitions.
“I thought that was just the way it was,” Menis said.
But it’s not. That’s why Menis will readily admit coaching Ahmed these past few years has been so special. Sure, it’s been extra work because Menis has to come up with workouts challenging enough for Ahmed — “It’s almost like running two programs,” he said — but that’s worth it if it means he can push his senior star to his fullest potential.
After all, that’s been his goal with each kid he’s coached.
“I enjoy working with these kids here,” Menis said. “That’s why I stay.”