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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2007
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From left, seventh-grader Victoria Draper, senior Collins Montgomery and eighth-grader Lyndsie Warren discuss practice details for the Jesse Owens Cross Country Classic with Lawrence County High cross country coach Stanley Johnson at Wednesday's practice. The ninth annual event is Saturday at the Oakville Indian Mounds Park and Educational Center.
Daily photo by Michael Wetzel
From left, seventh-grader Victoria Draper, senior Collins Montgomery and eighth-grader Lyndsie Warren discuss practice details for the Jesse Owens Cross Country Classic with Lawrence County High cross country coach Stanley Johnson at Wednesday's practice. The ninth annual event is Saturday at the Oakville Indian Mounds Park and Educational Center.

Southeast running world descends upon Oakville
Owens Classic brings
more than 3,000 runners

By Michael Wetzel
mwetzel@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

MOULTON — About a decade ago, Stanley Johnson sat on a hillside at the Jesse Owens Park and envisioned high school cross country teams — lots of them — running across the grounds.

Nine years later, not only has the picture in Johnson's mind's eye become a reality, the race now is considered one of the top prep cross-country events in the nation.

After its first two years, the race outgrew the Jesse Owens Park and moved to the nearby Oakville Indian Mounds Park and Educational Center. The ninth annual Jesse Owens Cross Country Classic will draw more than 3,000 runners to the Oakville community Saturday. The record number of runners come from more than 100 schools across the Southeast.

Competition will be divided into a dozen divisions with high schoolers running the 5-kilometer distance, while middle schoolers going 2.1 miles. Races begin at 9 a.m. with the awards ceremony at 12:45 p.m.

Johnson, cross country coach at Lawrence County High and event director, said this year's race will feature some of the nation's top runners, and he didn't have to think long to name names.

Austin High senior Jennifer Dunn is near the top of his list.

In 2006, Dunn set the girls gold event record with a time of 17 minutes, 54.33 seconds. Ben Hubers of Powder Springs, Ga., set the boys record (14:58) in 2006. But Hubers won't be back. He runs for the University of Indiana now.

But Johnson and Tim Loreman, webmaster for Alabamarunners.com, say girls national champion Kathy Kroeger of Independence High in Franklin, Tenn., is the favorite to win the girls crown. Kroeger, a junior, won the 2006-2007 National Foot Locker Cross Country in San Diego.

"Kathy is going to be tough to beat," Loreman said Thursday. "She hasn't run that much this year, but she decided to compete at Jesse Owens. That says a lot for the event that a national champion will be there."

Loreman points to Madeline Morgan of Mountain Brook, Katie Huston and Adrianna Poole of Sparkman and Kristina Vaughn of Bob Jones as other girls to expect to challenge for the gold title.

In the boys competition, Loreman likes Patrick McGregor of Hoover and Howard Graves and Patrick Gomez of Auburn. Grissom's Chase Volinski and Seth Bowman and Randolph's Keith Buell could finish high, too, Loreman said.

Johnson's Lawrence County boys team enters as defending bronze division champions. His girls took third last year.

"I know there are going to be some great runners there in all divisions," said senior Collins Montgomery, Lawrence County's No. 1 runner this fall. "It's on our home course, and we want to protect our turf. But it is actually pretty neat having so many runners come to Lawrence County.

"We try to put on a great event but we want to kick their tails, too."

Johnson said the event has turned into a year-round project but added it takes special people to make the event happen.

"If it wasn't for the parents of the Lawrence schools involved, Superintendent Dexter Rutherford, the Lawrence County Commission and Butch Walker of the Oakville Indian Mounds, there wouldn't be a Jesse Owens meet," Johnson said. "I can't say enough about the support of all the volunteers who work on this thing."

Vicki Morese, president of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, said the event bolsters the economy of the area.

"Anytime you get 3,000-plus people in town for an event, those people have to eat and sleep somewhere," Morese said. "It has a good economic impact on both Lawrence and Morgan counties.

"Stanley and his staff put on a great public relations event for Lawrence County. Stanley is a true ambassador for the community, the county and the sport. I wish I could clone him."

The Jesse Owens Runners Club Inc. hosts the event, and it also has landed the 2008 AAU Cross Country Nationals, which is set for December 2008.

The club consists of runners and parents from Hatton, Speake, East Lawrence and Lawrence County.

"The kids will be out here Friday helping set up and stay to take things down after it is all over with," Johnson said.

Ninth annual Jesse Owens Cross Country Classic

Who: More than 3,000 high school cross country runners from more than 100 schools. More than 1,000 awards will be presented to the winners in 12 divisions.

Where: Oakville Indian Mounds and Educational Center in Speake.

When: Saturday, with 5-kilometer and 2.1-mile races beginning at 9 a.m. and final awards ceremonies at 12:45 p.m.

Spectator admission cost: Free.

Local schools competing: Athens Bible, Austin, Brewer, Clements, Decatur, Decatur Heritage, Elkmont, Falkville, Hatton, Lawrence County, Priceville, Speake and West Morgan.

For more information: Visit www.cfpi.timing.com or
www.alabamarunners.com.

Michael Wetzel

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