Parkway track on a mission to make a difference

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

By the book.

That’s how Parkway head coach Kent Falting has run the Parkway track and field and cross country programs since taking the reins 16 years ago.

Under his leadership, the Panthers have consistently been at the top of District 1-5A in both running sports. Some teams, including his 2010 LHSAA Class 4A state champion cross country boys team, have enjoyed success in state championship competition.

But for Falting and his Panthers, they have bigger goals than simply competing for and winning titles. They want to make a difference in the lives of others…and society. Their current focus is helping those struggling with their mental health.

The Panthers lost teammate Steven Harville in September of 2020, 10 years after from the 2010 cross country state championship. Through the grieving process, Falting met with former Panthers Taylor Bazo and Lucas Moncla to search for a way to turn the tragic loss into something that could help other athletes…and other people, looking for hope during dark days of depression and mental illness.

“We started with the idea of a 5K to raise money,” Falting said, ”but decided that there was no amount of money which would prevent people from choosing suicide if they’re sick.”

The idea of Cross the Finish Line: A Motivational to Help You Find Strength was born. Fifty current and former Parkway Panther runners and coaches contributed by writing inspirational stories about overcoming adversity – whether it be a race, or life.

“Many of our former athletes have been gone so long that they are adults with their own families now,” Falting said. “One athlete wrote about the struggles she faced when she had a miscarriage. Another former runner wrote about overcoming adversity in medical school.”

The book, Falting’s third, came out in late May of 2021 and was listed in the Top 10 running books on Amazon during the first week of release.

Now, the mission is to get the book in the hands of as many people as possible.

Other teams are getting involved. Last fall, the Loyola College Prep cross country team bought a set for all of their runners.

Today, Falting will speak to 130 coaches at the Louisiana Track and Field Coaches Association in Lafayette. All coaches present will receive a free book and a couple of lucky raffle winners will get a set to take back to their athletes.

Like Falting and his Parkway runners set goals, he has established a goal of getting out 1,000 copies this year.

Oh, by the way, the 2022 track and field campaign has begun and the Panthers, despite their youth, are performing at a high level. That was shown in the highly competitive LSU Indoor Classic last Saturday.

There were several highlights for the Panthers inside the Carl Maddox Fieldhouse, but the one that stood out the most to Falting was the performance of the boys 4×800 relay team, who made the podium for third place (9:06.06) behind perennial powers Ruston (8:23.20) and Catholic (8:30.69).

“That was huge,” Falting said. “We haven’t been on the podium at an indoor meet since 2015 or 2016. I was glad that they got to experience that kind of success, especially this early on in the season.”

Even more impressive is the fact that Falting has a slew of young runners on the quartet. The only senior is Adrian Orellana. Other members of relay include freshman Jesus Cordova, sophomore Gabe Falting, and junior Charlie Ruliffson.

Individually, Parkway posted a few impressive opening season performances.

Falting, Coach Falting’s son, lowered his personal record by four seconds, running a 4:45 1600 meters. Fellow sophomore Cheyenne Olson, who has been busy with the Lady Panther soccer team, had an impressive 3200 meter performance, running a 12:58.65 after a solid leg on the 4×800 relay team. Falting finished the 1600 in ninth place and Olson finished No. 13 in the girls 3200 meters.

Freshman Drew Kent posted a 10:51 boys 3200 meters, causing Falting and rest of the Parkway coaching staff to “lose their minds” cheering Kent on during the first race of his high school career.

Falting will throw his Panthers “to the wolves” at the University of Arkansas’ High School Invitational in Fayetteville this Saturday.

“I find that they respond well in that environment,” Falting said. “It helps them have a handle on it when they are competing against elite level competitors in state championship settings, and gives those who go on to compete in college a taste of what that atmosphere is like.”

How can you help Falting and the Panthers meet their goal of 1,000 copies of Cross the Finish Line: A Motivational to Help You Find Strength ? It’s simple.

Buy the book.

CUTLINE – Parkway’s boys 3200 meter relay team won a bronze medal last Saturday at the LSU Indoor Classic in Baton Rouge. (Submitted photo)