Gatorade® National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year: Futsum Zeinasellassie

Professional Distance Runner Dathan Ritzenhein Surprises Standout with Elite Honor

Jan 26, 2012, 12:00 ET from Gatorade

INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 26, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- In its 27th year of honoring the nation's best high school athletes, The Gatorade Company, in collaboration with ESPNHS today announced Futsum Zeinasellassie of North Central High School (Indianapolis, Ind.) as its 2011-12 Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.  Zeinasellassie was surprised with the news at school by three-time USA 12K Cross Country champion Dathan Ritzenhein, who earned Gatorade Michigan Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year honors in 1999-00 and 2000-01.

"When I received the award, it was a really significant moment for me, so it felt great to surprise Futsum with the news and invite him into one of the most prestigious legacy programs in high school sports," said Ritzenhein, the former American record-holder at 5,000 meters and USA Track & Field's brightest hope for a medal in the 5K or 10K at the 2012 games.  "Gatorade has been on the sidelines fueling athletic performance for years, so to be recognized by a brand that understands the game and truly helps athletes perform is a huge honor for these kids."

The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the racecourse, distinguishes Zeinasellassie as the nation's best high school boys cross country runner.  A national advisory panel comprised of sport-specific experts and sports journalists helped select Zeinasellassie from nearly 250,000 high school boys cross country runners nationwide. Zeinasellassie is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award, to be presented at a special ceremony prior to The ESPY Awards in July.

The 5-foot-8 senior raced to the Nike Cross Nationals championship this past season with a course-record time of 15:02.41. The state's returning Gatorade Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, Zeinasellassie also won his third consecutive individual state championship in a course-record 14:48.8, by a meet-record margin of 44 seconds. He broke the tape at the NXN Midwest Regional championships in 15:42.8, the Foot Locker Midwest Regional championship in 14:58 and finished second at the national Foot Locker Cross Country Championships with a time of 14:52.1.

Zeinasellassie has maintained a B average in the classroom. A devoted member of his church community, where his father is a pastor, he has volunteered with youth track programs and raised funds to benefit a school in Kenya.

"Futsum certainly had one of the finest seasons any prep harrier has had," said ESPNHS Dyestat Senior Editor Steve Underwood. "In his biggest races before a one-second loss at Foot Locker nationals, he produced stunning performances:

Beating a course record held by two-time Gatorade National Runner of the Year Lukas Verzbicas in his dominant state meet triumph, then breaking the Nike Cross Nationals Final meet record in Portland— where he also enjoyed the biggest margin of victory in meet history. Only Verzbicas has won both national meets (in a single season) and the fact that Futsum came within a second of doing so as well, speaks volumes."

Zeinasellassie remains undecided upon a collegiate destination.

"Without question, Futsum is deserving of recognition as the nation's best high school boys cross country runner based on his statistics on the course and the impact his accomplishments have had on North Central's success," said Gatorade President North America and Global Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Robb O'Hagan.  "But he is also a shining example to peers and aspiring young athletes of what a leader and a student-athlete should be.  He represents everything we hope for in a Gatorade Player of the Year recipient."

The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport. The selection process is administered by ESPNHS and the Gatorade high school sports leadership team, which work with top sport-specific experts and a media advisory board of accomplished, veteran prep sports journalists to determine the state winners in each sport.

Former notable Gatorade National Players of the Year include:

  • Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning
  • WNBA all-time leading scorer and rebounder Lisa Leslie
  • NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith
  • American Mile Record-holder Alan Webb


For more information on the Gatorade Player of the Year program, including nomination information, a complete list of former winners, and future announcement dates, visit the Gatorade Player of the Year Web site at, on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at











Futsum Zeinasellassie    

Lukas Verzbicas

Lukas Verzbicas

North Central/Indianapolis, IN

Carl Sandburg/Orland Park, IL

Carl Sandburg/Orland Park, IL

High School Senior

Professional Triathlete

Professional Triathlete



Reed Connor

Chris Derrick

The Woodlands/The Woodlands, TX

Neuqua Valley/Naperville, IL

University of Wisconsin

Stanford University


SOURCE Gatorade