St. John's College HS: Championship Culture And Character

St. John's lead leg for the 4x1600, Karil Arnold rolls 4:21.28 at the Arcadia Invitational (Raymond Tran photo)


The Washington, DC, area has become home to some of the country's top track & field programs. St. John's College High School is no exception, as it has quickly established itself as one of the premier programs in the DMV and nationwide. Many running programs tend to excel in one particular event area, such as short sprints or distance races. What makes St. John's especially unique is its ability to consistently produce extremely competitive athletes across many disciplines, from sprints and mid-distance/distance events to jumps, throws, and hurdles. 

Since 2017, St. John's girl's team has been dominant in the highly competitive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), known for its national caliber sports teams, especially in track & field, with member schools including Archbishop Carroll, DeMatha, Bishop McNamara, and Gonzaga. The girl's team has won the last six consecutive WCAC Outdoor Championships and has ten DCSAA State Indoor and Outdoor Championship titles. They currently have not one but two 4x400 relay teams easily dipping under sub-4:00 minutes, with a season-best and school record of 3:48.33 this month at the Arcadia Invitational in California. Two girls' distance medley relay teams qualified for the prestigious invite, with the A team winning the seeded section and coming close to breaking 12 minutes. The Cadets' staff checks all the boxes as they extend beyond the track, featuring local, regional, and national performances in the throws and jumps.

Recently placing a close second at New Balance Indoor Nationals (February 2024) with a time of 7 minutes 46 seconds, St. John's middle-distance boys are having a breakthrough year. They can easily field two sub-8:00 minutes 4x800 relay teams and a distance medley relay that would run close to 10 minutes. Most recently, they placed a close second in the seeded section of the 4x1600 at the Arcadia Invitational in California (April 2024). The boys' team has won two WCAC league championship titles and a combined seven DCSAA Indoor and Outdoor State Championship titles in recent years. Between the boys and girls teams, St. John's boasts dozens of indoor and outdoor national qualifiers and All-American finishers.

However, the program's culture and the coaching staff's philosophy aren't merely about competing at championships. The St. John's coaches strongly believe that winning is a by-product of creating a cohesive, supportive, fun, and team-oriented program in which the student-athletes realize that there are times when individual glory may be sacrificed for the sake of team goals. They believe that personal achievements should be attained, yet those achievements are not more important than what's best for the whole team, and that is a life lesson that the coaching staff is not willing to bend on. This philosophy has resulted in some talented runners opting out of the St. John's program to pursue individual accolades.

In a climate of expensive club and private coaching being marketed as the quick answer to garner success, the running program at St. John's focuses on teaching student-athletes to run and compete for a collective goal, most importantly, to develop character and life lessons from the sport of running. The program has proven that success will follow when culture exemplifies a growth mindset, work ethic, and positivity. St. John's has developed a comprehensive and welcoming program that utilizes a sophisticated training method and intentional relationship-building to support new and experienced student-athletes, while many teams are now relying solely on recruiting the most elite runners to snag championships.

Building character and learning life lessons are integral parts of the coaching philosophy. Those tenets are embraced by the entire coaching staff, who competed at Division I and Ivy League schools and bring diverse perspectives to the program from their professional careers in business, professional writing, mental health, education, law, and finance.

St. John's is also fortunate to have a myriad of runners who live throughout the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area, with commutes to campus ranging from five minutes to an hour and a half. With varied racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds and perspectives, the team eagerly celebrates each other's wins on and off the track and consistently supports each other during challenging times. The team boasts several class valedictorians among its alumni and scholar-athletes who have earned their Eagle Scout award or worked to bring the game of chess to children in underserved communities throughout Washington, DC.

St. John's recent success has quickly caught the attention of many college programs, with athletes being recruited to Division I and III teams from UVA, Georgetown, Fordham, UPenn, Howard, Columbia, Colgate, Bowdoin, and NYU. St. John's believes strongly in their athletes finding the right fit for their collegiate pursuits with the hope of not only instilling essential values and developing fundamental life skills but also fostering a true love of running that will inspire its athletes to continue following and participating in the sport long after they have graduated. Their motto is "Once a Cadet, always a Cadet." Keep an eye out for this program!