MHSAA - Northville runner shines at state championships to honor disqualified teammates
Provided by MLive
By Jared Purcell
Heading into the Division 1 state championships, a lot of eyes fell on Northville junior runner Nick Couyoumjian. Although he was not expected to win an individual state title, Couyoumjian had the cross country world watching thanks to a controversy that arose a week prior.
During the Division 1 region championship meet held at Willow Metropark on Oct. 28, the Northville boys varsity appeared to have taken third place to qualify its entire varsity team for the state championships. However, the meet referees and an appeals board made up of coaches as the meet agreed to disqualify Northville for a uniform violation. The infraction was that various Northville runners were wearing different colored shirts underneath their uniform, which is a violation punishable by disqualification.
RELATED: How shirts DQ'd an entire cross country team and how one runner got reinstated
Originally, the whole team was disqualified but Couyoumjian was eventually reinstated by the MHSAA thanks to a rule that made him exempt from disqualification as an individual.
The whole scenario began making waves across social media and cross country websites that serve a nationwide audience. Some people thought the rule was too harsh while others cited that it is a well-known rule that all teams are intended to follow.
Stuck in the middle of all of the debate was Couyoumjian, who was vocal advocate in favor of getting all of his teammates reinstated. So, it was understandable if the spotlight on Couyoumjian was bigger than anticipated. He was no longer just another runner among the 245 runner field.
"I was just trying to focus on the task at hand," Couyoumjian said. "We've got to put that stuff behind us and we've got to move on. I was running for everybody that supported me, that was there for me along the way and my team. I was doing it for them because they deserved it just as much as I did. I would have loved to have had them out here but I was running for them as well."
However, Mother Nature had no sympathy for Couyoumjian as thunderstorms rolled through the Michigan International Speedway, delaying the start of his race by 70 minutes and turning the course into a mushy, muddy mess.
Still, somehow, Couyoumjian kept his cool.
"I felt the most relaxed here than I have at any other state meet," Couyoumjian said. "I've been here all of my high school years. I was just trying to stay calm and know my task at hand and go for it."
Indeed, he did go for it.
After falling short of All-State honors as a freshman and sophomore, Couyoumjian put together the best race of his life. All of the adversity from the prior week seemed to do was just fuel Couyoumjian to a personal-best time of 15:51.0, good enough for 25th place. Since the top 30 runners earn All-State status, Couyoumjian also check off a career-long goal.
"I'm very happy," Couyoumjian said. "I was going for top 30 and All-State. I hadn't been All-State in my high school career. That was the goal all from the beginning of the season. I had it pinned on the wall. I'm just so happy that I finally achieved it."
Northville coach Tim Dalton could not have been happier for his runner, either. Giving Couyoumjian a big hug after the race, Dalton never doubted his runner's resolve on and off of the course.
"It's been not ideal conditions (to race in) but that's been our last week: not ideal," Dalton said. "I told him he had to get out more between that 25 and 40 window, sit in there in the second of the race. That's when kids start to fall back. On the infield in the last 1,000 meters here at MIS is always a little soft and cushy. He knew that's where he had to make his move. Mile and a half, he was about 30th place and he followed the race plan to a T. He was strong over the second half and I could not be happier for him."
In fact, Dalton could not have asked anything more of Couyoumjian when it came to handling all of the attention that Northville has gotten from local TV news stations and national news sites.
"Nick was very well-spoken," Dalton said. "I've tried to stay out of it. If you've seen him on MileSplit.com or Channel 4 News in Detroit, for a 17-year-old kid to get in front of the camera like that, I'm very, very impressed."
When, Couyoumjian was reinstated back into the state meet, he felt rather uneasy about it. He said it felt like a "consolation prize." Yet, he decided to keep a positive approach so he could represent the Northville Mustangs to the best of his ability.
"I would almost rather have them do all or none," Couyoumjian of the MHSAA's decision to let him run without his teammates. "But, I'm happy I'm here. Very happy."
Why shouldn't he be happy? He just ran his heart out with the cross country world watching.
"I think it's a pretty good story," Dalton said. "I think most kids are happy for Nick Couyoumjian right now."