Mount Saint Joseph runner Charlie Butler was stationed at the far left of the start line at Hereford’s prestigious Bull Run Invitational with Calvert Hall’s Cameron Davis at the opposite end earlier this season.
It only took a few strides for both to separate themselves from the pack.
At that point, Butler made sure to take a quick look to his right and Davis peeked to his left. What each saw was no surprise.
“I gave him a little smirk, just like acknowledging, ‘OK, it’s us two taking on this race,’” Butler said.
One week after Davis edged Butler at Dulaney’s Barnhardt Invitational, Butler managed Hereford’s hills a little better to win the elite race at Bull Run.
And so, back and forth they go.
The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association has had its share of standouts over the years, but rarely has the league enjoyed two exceptional cross country runners competing against each other at the same time. And their best is yet to come: Davis, the league’s defending champion, and Butler are only juniors.
“Depending who you ask, they’re either the two best runners in the state or two of the three. So to have those two kids in your league is something special,” said Calvert Hall coach Scott Baker.
“Most years, if you’re as good as Cameron or Charlie, you would go into your conference meet thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to win easily.’ But in this scenario, you come to your conference meet knowing you’re going to have to run the best you’ve ever run in order to win. So it makes the MIAA more exciting in that sense because it’s not a runaway victory or anything like that.”
The pair’s growing rivalry — a friendly one that both appreciate — reached a new level during the outdoor track and field season.
At the MIAA Championships, Davis nipped Butler in the 1,600-meter race (4 minutes, 18.62 seconds) by less than a half second. Butler took home the title in the 3,200 (9:21.63) by more than one second over Davis, who placed third.
The 1-2 finishes the pair enjoyed in the two cross country meets this season have further cemented their bond.
“I may not always be thinking about it, but it’s in the back of mind: ‘Cam is out there working hard every day,’” Butler said. “I know he’s working hard, so I want to do the same. I want to work harder, I want to get better and I want to do what it takes to try to beat him every single time.”
Both have been running since grade school while also playing team sports, and they have many shared reasons why running became their passion. Topping the list is the consistent self-discipline required to enjoy success.
“In other sports, sometimes when you lose it’s not your fault,” Davis said. “But with running, the work you put in is what you get out of it, so I think that’s what I really liked about it when I was younger. I like the competition, always being out there trying to win, and the strategy that is right there, too.”
In middle school, Butler was still considering playing baseball until he joined the Howard County Striders in eighth grade. At the end of the season, he was invited to compete at an Amateur Athletic Union junior national meet in Tennessee. He was sold.
He came to Mount Saint Joseph as a freshman, running alongside a senior-laden cross country squad that was immediately impressed.
“I kind of knew he was a little different right away. Usually with freshmen, you have that long progression for most kids — from freshman year to going on to become a viable runner by junior year and really good runner by the time they’re a senior. That’s the normal progression for most kids,” Mount Saint Joseph coach Jack Peach said. “But it’s funny, he came out in our summer practices as a freshman and was keeping up with the varsity and, at the time, I had a pretty stacked team. The kids came back from a run and the seniors were like: ‘This freshman can really move.’”
The progression that Peach typically sees over the course of a runner’s high school career has been accelerated by Butler, who credits help from the more experienced runners on the team during his freshman year as setting an important tone.
He thrives on the camaraderie with his teammates and now has emerged as the Gaels’ leader. But he is well aware that reaching goals comes with the work put in when nobody else is around.
“Yes, you have your cross country team, but during the summer and on off days, it’s all on you to get your training done,” Butler said. “You got to get yourself motivated to go out there and do the 8 miles even if it’s raining, even its 10 degrees out. You still got to get your training in and I just enjoy the challenge of being self-reliant and working hard.”
At Calvert Hall, day after day, Baker sees something special in Davis.
“You find those kids that are really, really good and sometimes they don’t work really hard and settle with what their talent is. Cameron has all the skills as one of those kids and he’s always striving for more,” Baker said. “So he happens to be one of those super talented kids, but he also works so hard and he’s incredibly humble. He’s a great student, too, and he does everything to the best of his ability always wanting to get better.”
On race days when the two are competing against each other, both say they are not focused on the other, only to keep going and push as hard as they can.
Knowing there is somebody else doing the same — matching the skill and competitiveness — is a win-win for both runners.
“It’s not all the time that you have somebody as good that’s also in the same league, so I think it’s great,” Davis said. “And we’re only juniors, so hopefully it keeps getting better and better. It’s exciting to know he’s a local, so I know he’ll always be out there and races are always going to be competitive.”
A staggering thought for many in MIAA running circles is that one of these standout runners will not be the league champion on Nov. 1 at Shawan Downs in Cockeysville.
With two special student-athletes excelling and setting a fine example, one guaranteed winner is the MIAA.
“The league has been down a little bit in terms of teams. Last year, Loyola, Mount Saint Joe and Calvert Hall were good, but probably a little behind some of the [pubic] state teams and the rest of the league is kind of down,” Loyola Blakefield coach Jose Albornoz said. “But the fact we have these two marquee guys to pull the league along and everybody can see what they can do, others can think ‘Why can’t we do it, too?’ So we have some other developing guys and I think the league itself just really likes seeing that these guys are kind of beacons for the rest of the runners.”