More than 5,500 high school runners from across the Southeast are expected to compete Saturday in the 14th annual Jesse Owens Cross Country Classic Invitational.
Runners from Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida will compete in 14 divisions for boys and girls beginning at 8:15 a.m. on the grounds of the Oakville Indian Mounds Education Center.
Race Director Stanley Johnson said the races help prepare Alabama runners for the state championship on the same fast, spectator-friendly course in five weeks.
“It’s sort of a semi-southeastern regional, but it’s not officially a regional meet,” he said about Saturday’s races.
Johnson said the event has grown from 450 runners in 1999.
“I look back from ’92 and ’93, and I can just see the number of teams that have developed over the years, and the numbers have grown tremendously, especially in this area,” he said.
Because of heavy rain this week, organizers will spend about three days grooming the course and making final preparations, Johnson said. There is no admission charge, but organizers will accept donations for parking.
Decatur Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Tami Reist said the economic impact for the 2011 races was $35,503.
Reist said the event is an economic boon to Decatur, Lawrence County and Cullman.
Sandee Sartain, director of sales for Best Western and Microtel Inn, said both properties were sold out, and the majority of rooms booked were for runners, their families and friends.
Athens Bible coach Brad Murrell said the races are “a fantastic opportunity” for his team.
“I’ve got a couple or three girls that may stand a shot at being in the top 25,” he said.
Murrell said eighth-grader Anna Persell and 11th-graders Ashley Riggins and Becca Harwell are his top girls runners, while junior Ryan Crews, freshman Dalton Adams and Crews’ brother, freshman Will Crews, are the top finishers for Athens Bible’s boys.
The region’s best runners will rank in the top 25 in each race. To reach that mark, runners need to cover the 3.1-mile course in 15 to 18 minutes for boys and 17 to 23 minutes for girls.
Junior high runners will run a 2.1-mile course.
“I’m hoping some of the girls can break 23, and Ryan is shooting to break 18,” Murrell said. “Dalton and Will need to be breaking into the 18s. They haven’t broken 19 yet.”
Murrell said a winding section of the course known by runners as “the snake,” makes the course challenging.
“It does have some hills, and it doesn’t have a lot of flat spots,” he said. “At the 1.8-mile marker, the snake begins, which consists of four short hills that route up and down through the trees and spectators and ends at the 2.1-mile marker.”
Crews said the Jesse Owens meet is his favorite meet of the season because it’s one of the largest in the Southeast.
“There are so many great runners there from all over,” he said. “All of the teams that will be our top competition at state will be there, so it’s a really good measuring stick of where you stand and where you need to get to be one of the best.”
The race course is popular among runners because it’s the course for the state championships and other races.
“We always go there for the Chickasaw Trails, Jesse Owens and the state meet, and those are always the three biggest meets of the season,” Crews said. “So you’re usually going to run your best times because of the competition that’s pushing you.”
Staff writer Justin Graves contributed to this article.
Oakville Indian Mounds Education Center is located about eight miles south of Moulton on Alabama 157 and 1½ miles from Jesse Owens Memorial Park. Admission is free. A parking donation of $2 per car is suggested to help support the Education Center.
DECATUR MORGAN COUNTY CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU
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