Ridgefield High School’s outstanding junior distance runner Steven Hergenrother is the epitome of a real winner. A winner in several aspects on and off the track.
He’s been a winning and champion runner so many times on cross country courses and on oval tracks, as his fast times and accomplishments certify that.
But in another aspect, this classy youngster totally gets it and is also a big winner in the game of life.
For those who adhere to the saying of how “the best gift is the gift of giving,” then Hergenrother has gotten that gift while contributing toward high school cross country and track athletes from the Bridgeport community being gifted new running shoes.
Hergenrother had a cross country season so superb this past fall that he won the boys races at all three of the in-state cross country championship meets. Consequently, he was the easy and obvious choice as the 2022-23 Gatorade Connecticut Boys Cross Country Player of the Year.
The prestigious Gatorade award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence, academic achievement, and character. And with this act of kindness just another example of his class and character, Hergenrother embodies all of that.
Hergenrother received a $1,000 grant from Gatorade as part of it’s Play It Forward initiative which empowers the award recipients to give back to other athletes. Hergenrother collaborated with Megan Searfoss, the founder and owner of Ridgefield Running Company and Darien Running Company, to earmark his grant to the company’s Kicks for Kids program. The charitable initiative works with schools in Bridgeport to get new running shoes to their student-athletes.
“When I found out about this opportunity to donate $1,000 to a charity of my choice, I reached out to Megan almost immediately because I know she’s very knowledgeable about the running community,” Hergenrother related. “Kicks for Kids was her suggestion. She told me some stories about Bridgeport athletes who have already received shoes from this organization, and I immediately knew I had to contribute. Running is not only a great sport but a great lifestyle, and to help give others access to it is exactly what I wanted.”
“Steven’s donation is incredibly special,” Searfoss said. “The Hergenrother family have been supporters of Ridgefield Running Company since it opened in 2014 and two of his siblings worked or interned with me. I was honored that he reached out for a suggestion.
“When Steven reached out to me, I thought this opportunity was perfect for his award. I have known Steven since he was young, seen his passion and commitment to running and knew this was a great match allowing athletes to get properly fit for a new pair of shoes to compete in the sport he loves.”
In some coincidental perfect symmetry, Hergenrother’s Gatorade award was announced a couple months after Ridgefield Running Company was selected Best Running Store of 2022 at The Running Event in Austin, Texas. Ridgefield Running Company was one 61 stores in the country selected among the 2022 Best Running Stores. Then it made the final four along with stores from Kentucky, South Carolina, and Idaho before Ridgefield Running Company was ultimately selected No. 1.
Searfoss initiated the Kicks for Kids shortly after meeting coaches Jeremy Susi and Mina Rasmussen from the Bassick High School cross country team. Susi and Rasmussen reached out to Searfoss because their athletes needed shoes. So, Kicks for Kids began in 2022 and since then in excess over 200 pairs of new shoes have been donated to Bridgeport schools.
“It’s incredibly rewarding,” Hergenrother said. “To me, sports are not just about individual success but also collective achievement. I am extremely grateful that my efforts as an individual have given me the opportunity to help the community.
“It’s a great way to give back to the sport that has given me so much,” Hergenrother continued. “On top of that, Kicks for Kids directly benefits children from disadvantaged communities. I can confidently say that this grant will help expose kids to the sport and may even foster a passion for running like the one I have.”
Hergenrother burst onto the FCIAC scene as a phenomenal sophomore in October of 2021 when he placed fifth at the FCIAC Boys Cross Country Championships and was second on his team while helping lead Ridgefield to the team title. Hergenrother’s time of 16:22 on the Waveny Park 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) course was just 11 seconds behind individual champion Nathan Cramer of Fairfield Ludlowe.
Hergenrother then placed 12th and was again second on the team with a time of 17:15 on the Wickham Park 5K course while helping lead Ridgefield to second place at the 2021 CIAC Class LL Boys Cross Country Championships. Four days later at the State Open on the same course, Hergenrother improved his time by more than a minute with a 16:13 which placed him 10th behind nine seniors and he and was the fastest runner from the FCIAC while helping lead Ridgefield to the team title.
And then came this past autumn’s cross country season.
Hergenrother got his postseason Triple Crown campaign rolling when he won the FCIAC Championships 5K race by 15 seconds with a time of 15:29 which was 53 seconds faster than his previous sophomore year’s fifth-place finish.
Hergenrother won his first state championship in an exciting finish at the Cass LL meet when he nipped Staples junior Ben Lorenz by one second with his winning time of 15:53 on Oct. 29. Six days later Hergenrother ran 11 seconds faster on the same Wickham Park course to win the State Open as his time of 15:42 was six seconds ahead of runner-up Griffin Mandirola of Suffield.
But Hergenrother’s stellar postseason was not quite done yet. Again, he was the fastest runner from the state when he placed second at the 2022 New England High School Cross Country Championships with his time of 15:37.2. St. Raphael Academy (Rhode Island) senior Devan Kipyego won with a 15:24.7.
Last spring during his sophomore outdoor track and field season, Hergenrother had personal-record times of 1:56.29 in the 800-meter run, 4:09.49 in the 1,600, and 9:15.96 in the 3,200.
“I am incredibly happy with my high school running accomplishments up until this point. I’ve certainly met my pre-high school expectations and then some,” Hergenrother said. “Winning the State Open as a team in 2021 and as an individual in 2022 were both very memorable experiences. I’ve been watching track and cross country meets ever since I was four, when my sister started running. I was inspired from a young age to work hard in order to improve. To be like those who inspired me is incredibly fulfilling.”
Hergenrother is unsure of which events he will compete in at FCIAC and state championship meets this spring. Some general goals he has are to qualify for the Brooks PR nationals in the mile and to team up with three teammates on the distance medley relay team and earn All-American honors at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor.
Hergenrother’s longer-range goals for his senior year are to contribute to the Tigers winning another State Open team championship in cross country and then achieve his primary goal of breaking four minutes in the mile.