Just 10 days before the Astronaut Cross Country Invitational slated for Sept. 5, race director Bill Canfield wondered if the event would happen at all. Late summer storms already had soaked North Brevard and Hurricane Erika lurked in the Caribbean. It didn’t look promising, even for a rainy-season meet famous for its mud.
A week later, Canfield was wondering if the course at Chain of Lakes Park near Eastern Florida State College in Titusville was faster and drier than he would prefer.
“Being an old-fashioned cross country guy, I’m a little leery of very fast courses, and this may be too fast,” the Astronaut High School cross country coach said. “I like challenges.”
This year’s challenge is much the same as it always is for Canfield: to host a major event that involves 1,800 to 1,900 varsity and junior varsity runners from 55 high school teams from throughout Florida, a 43-year tradition that helps kick off the season.
It is second nature to Canfield, who has done it since 1988, with a four-year break in the mid-2000s.
He plans, he gathers volunteers and he works.
“It takes a lot of time and planning,” Canfield said. “The process starts in April, when we contact Eastern Florida and Brevard County Parks and Recreation about getting the meet posted. But I’ve really learned to kind of wait until July to start to contact people and really set things in motion. That includes everything from contacting the doctors and EMTs who will be there, to the company that does our timing to the trophy people who do our awards.”
In the end it boils down to Canfield, his wife Janet and 18 young men and women who run for them.
“We really couldn’t do it without our volunteers,” Canfield said. “We have 100 percent parent participation and every kid helps out. Last weekend, we worked 6 hours after the Wickham Park Cross Country Invitational, putting up the finish line, polls and fencing. The (volunteers) who did not pound stakes will work the day of the meet, either at the race itself or with the awards or concession stand. The concession stand is kind of fun because it is 100 percent profit, because everything there is homemade.”
The War Eagles are only too happy to oblige.
“This is exciting,” said junior Zach Hall. “This is a huge meet and to me able to set up the course so so many people can come out here and just run is great. … It’s always been a fun race, with so many teams involved.”
The idea, he added, is to set things up well enough in advance so that the only things the runners, volunteers and others must do is show up on race day. “If you do it right, the meet will run itself,” he said.
It will run itself with fine runners, including Merritt Island’s Steven Cross, whose best time is 15:01.
“Trinity Prep (Class 2A boys’ state champions, from Winter Park) and Lyman (Class 4A boys’ state champions, from Longwood) will be there, and they are very good. Lyman has a runner (state meet winner Josh Jacques) who is outstanding,” Canfield said. “Mandarin, from the Jacksonville area, also is coming, as is Bartram Trail, also from near Jacksonville, and they have really good teams.”
Perennial power Winter Park also will be there with the remarkable Rafaella Gibbons, who won last year’s girls’ Class 4A state title at 18:05.
It is a huge undertaking, and this year, it will have a different course, changed so it will take the shape of a single loop rather than with multiple twists and turns. The start and finish will be where they always have been, behind EFSC, but the run over the bridge is a thing of the past.
The change was partially due to the participation of the Astronaut runners.
“We wanted to change the course this year . . . and we got our say,” Hall said. “Our input matters.”
Four days before the meet, the course looked good, Canfield said, “dry and nicely groomed.”
That may not be exactly what he wants, though. “This is cross country. We like challenges. We need a little mud on alligator alley,” he said.
The Astronaut Cross Country Invitational will start with the varsity girls’ race at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, at Chain of Lakes Park, 2300 Truman Scarborough Way. The start and finish will be located behind the campus of adjacent Eastern Florida State College, 1311 Highway U.S. 1, Titusville.
Teams scheduled to compete include: Ascension Catholic, Astronaut, Bartram Trail, Bayside, Boone, Brevard HEAT, Chaminade-Madonna, City of Life Christian, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa, Colonial, Cornerstone Charter, Cypress Creek, DeLand, East Ridge, East River, Eau Gallie, Edgewater, Father Lopez, Freedom (Orlando), Hagerty, Holy Trinity, Lake Brantley, Lake Highland Prep, Lake Howell, Lake Mary, Lake Mary Prep, Lake Nona, Lyman, Mainland, Mandarin, Matanzas, Melbourne Central Catholic, Melbourne, Merritt Island, Mount Dora Christian Academy, Mount Dora, New Smyrna Beach, Oviedo, Palm Bay Heritage, Palm Bay, Pine Ridge, Rockledge, Sanford Seminole, Seabreeze, St. Cloud, The Geneva School, Timber Creek, Titusville, Trinity Prep, University, Venice, Wekiva, West Orange, West Shore, Winter Park and Winter Springs.
For more information, go to http://elitetiming.net/event/astronaut-invite-2015/