NEW CARLISLE — Around these parts, if your name is Baltes, you're expected to be good at running long distances.
"It's one of those names that's known in the area," New Prairie boys cross country coach John Arndt said.
It starts with Bernie Baltes, the patriarch of the family farming business who has worked the finish chute at meets since 1989. Sons Jerry (1993), Joe (1994) and Jeff (1996) all ran for the Cougars during the program's golden era, when New Prairie regularly qualified for the state finals.
Now the track and cross country coach at Grand Valley State, Jerry was a freshman on the '89 team, the first to advance that far. He was a junior and Joe a freshman when the Cougars made a surprising return in '91. Joe ran on four straight state-qualifying teams, anchoring NP's runner-up finish in '94, when brother Jeff, a sophomore, was also part of the 12-man roster.
"Running became my thing in middle school," said Joe, a semistate champion and a four-year varsity runner. "We were fortunate to run in a lot of state meets as a family. One thing I've always preached to the kids is you'll never know what it's like to experience it unless you get there. You've got to try to get there."
A second generation of Baltes runners arrived when Jeff's step sons Justin and Jake came to New Prairie. Now it's Joe's kids who are carrying on the tradition in freshman Laynie and junior Josh.
"You're always expected to run fast, to be higher up, based on what he did, what our cousins did," Josh said. "It's something to work toward, to use in workouts."
Even though Laynie's the first Baltes girl in the sport, the name holds the same weight.
"It's a lot different, his running and my running," she said. "There's definitely pressure that goes into it. People think you need to be up there, like (our dad) was. There's a lot that comes with the name. It's the farm with grandpa Bernie, our dad being a runner. You want to be good at it, to keep the name in good standing. I just work hard so I can be there."
Joe never steered the kids into cross country, though the blue-collar work ethic that comes with farm life certainly helps in the grueling sport. The family still works about 2,500 acres of land, running a hog operation and has 20 head of beef cattle on property right by the high school.
"From (age) 3, 4, they were up in the morning doing chores," said Joe, who is also production manager at Alpha Baking in La Porte. "We live off the farm, but (the kids) are there in the summer working. They drive tractors. They just know it. Laynie's a hurdler, pole vaulter in track. She does softball now, too. She's a busy girl, along with all farm work that goes on."
Josh played town baseball for a few years and Laynie was involved in travel softball. Both started cross country in middle school.
"In eighth grade, I really decided it was something I wanted to do," Josh said. "I think (dad) really wanted us to do it, but he would've been all right if he didn't."
"I think he's happy I chose to do it," Laynie added.
It wasn't until high school that Josh learned of the level of Joe's success, getting his first look at the scrapbooks that hold all the newspaper clippings.
"I've said many times, you ever have to compete with me, you have to compete with yourself," Joe said. "They both love it. (Josh and I) sat down and went over some times, the books from when I was in high school, where guys were at. I've got all the articles laid out for the kids to look at now and then. They always have a chance to look at them if they want."
Josh was a varsity runner last year in a four-senior lineup and has developed into the team's No. 2 runner this season, knocking off about 90 seconds in his race time.
He finished 15th in the sectional, helping the Cougars qualify for today's regional as a team.
"I never anticipated Josh doing what he's doing.
"I can't say enough of how much he's improved," Joe said. "I give credit to the coaches and seniors last two years. The Corbett boys took him under their wing, nurtured him, and made him the runner he is today. Josh has really taken it on his own to be a leader. He's grown into a mentally strong runner. I tell them, you're going to hit a wall, you're going to get knocked over, but trust me, if want a chance to be the top guy, you have to out and try to do it, or you'll never compete with the leaders."
Part of a deep freshman girls class, Laynie took 30th in the sectional, advancing individually.
"She just rolls with it," NP girls coach Julie Jeszenszky said. "She's chill. She's humble. She just rides the wave. I don't put any of that (pressure) on them. I figure the family takes care of most of the making sure you know your name stuff. I just make sure she knows what she's supposed to do and to stay healthy."
New Prairie's course includes a bridge that transitions the course from one sector of woods onto the main grounds that's named Baltes Bridge.
"We bring it up jokingly all the time," Arndt said. "We cross the bridge all time, there's crossbars on the thing, I told (Josh), unless you have a good year, that sign is going up last, or we'll put it up first and take a letter off if you have a bad race each time. It'll be the "Altes" Bridge."
Josh and Laynie take it all in stride, no pun intended.
"It's kind of neat running there, embracing the name," Josh said.
"I don't really think about it when I'm running," Laynie adds. "When we get to that part of the course, I tell myself, whether I'm in good standing or not, I need to get up farther, work harder."
In two weeks at the state meet, ceremonies will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1994 season during which the Cougars brought home the second-place trophy.
"I'm hoping Josh has a chance," Joe said. "I'm going to be there, so it would be fun if he could be there, too. We'll see if it comes through."
Josh has an ulterior motive in qualifying.
"It would be really cool to beat his time," he said.
When: 10 a.m. (boys race), 10:45 (girls race)
Where: Sunset Hill Farm County Park, Liberty Township