Saturday, December 7, 2013
The Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions was undoubtedly the best attended high school event of the weekend at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.
Between runners and spectators there were well over 4,000 people in attendance despite a steady mist which alternated with light rain.
The Festival attracted 60 high schools including four from out of state and provided the best competition Maine has to offer. Just as important, it celebrated a sport which receives little fanfare. It’s fun to see teams from schools you might never otherwise see compete on a big stage and the pride they take in wearing their school colors.
The brainchild of Brewer coach Glendon Rand and Belfast coach Joanne Nealey, the Festival is now in its 10th year. There are six races in all, three for boys and three for girls, but they’re eventually combined into one.
“It’s a lot of work,” Rand said. “Obviously computers are a big help and automatic timing systems. We couldn’t do a race where we combine three races into one without automatic timing.”
Rand and Nealey operated with a core group of five or six with help from the Belfast school department in preparing the course. In the seeded races, Rand introduced each team — there were 50 boys teams — and mentioned some of the top runners and their career highlights.
Runners tell you it’s a good mid-season gauge of their progress, but a win here is as big as any in the state considering the competition. Matt McClintock, the Class C state champ, repeated his Festival title as did Class A phenom Abbey Leonardi who is ranked eighth in the country.
“It’s great to get out and race all my friends, Class A and Class B runners I never get to run against,” McClintock said.
The Mount Desert Island girls should be strong for the next three years. They finished first Saturday with four sophomores and a freshman. Runner-up Camden Hills will also contend for awhile. The Windjammers had two sophomores, three freshmen and a junior among their top six.
Cumberland, R.I., which placed third overall among the boys, has competed at the Festival since its inception while runner-up J.H. Gillis High of Antigonish, Nova Scotia returned Saturday for the third year in a row.
Gary Hawkins has worked at the Kennebec Journal since 1980. His primary beats are baseball, boys basketball, girls and boys soccer and golf.