PG North: Red, White & Blue cross country meet appeals to all classes

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It's not often the top cross country runners in the WPIAL and City League get to compete against each other.

Most large meets during the season, such as the Slippery Rock and Central Catholic invitationals, have separate divisions for large and small schools. That's only fair because it's almost impossible for a Brentwood or a Freedom to compete against the depth of a North Allegheny or Mt. Lebanon.

The Red, White & Blue meet Saturday at Schenley Park also will have two divisions -- Classes AAA and AA. What makes the event special, however, is there will be just two varsity races -- one for boys, one for girls.

It might be the only time this season the top runners in Class AA will get a chance to race against the best in AAA.

"It makes for great competition," said Rich Wright, Baldwin coach and meet director. "We can do it that way because Mark Courtney [from Runner's High, which handles the finish line and results] has the capabilities to separate runners from the big and small schools.

"Look at last year's race. It was a great finish between Lucas [Zarzeczny of Avonworth] and Scott [Van Kooten of Central Catholic]. I think that might have been the only time they had a chance to race against each other."

Zarzeczny displayed his speed at the end of the 3.1-mile course and nipped Van Kooten over the final 300 yards, winning by a second in 15 minutes, 13 seconds. Zarzeczny went on to win the WPIAL AA individual title, while Van Kooten won the WPIAL AAA crown.

Races will begin at 8:50 a.m. with the boys' varsity race at Schenley Park Oval. That will be followed by the girls' varsity race at 9:20. The boys' junior varsity race will start at about 9:50 and will be followed by the girls' JV reace.

Because Zarzeczny and Van Kooten have graduated, the boys' race is wide open. Gateway's Ed MacMurchy and North Allegheny's Matt Jacob are the top returning runners. They finished third and sixth, respectively, last year.

North Allegheny is the defending boys' Class AAA champion. Its girls' team was second to Mt. Lebanon last year.

Greensburg Salem's Samantha Bower is the defending girls' champ. Last year, she beat her cousin, Natalie Bower of Latrobe, the WPIAL AAA champ, by nine seconds. Fox Chapel's Rachel Humphrey, who was second at the Gateway Invitational last weekend, was third a year ago.

This is the fifth year for the Red, White & Blue, which is becoming one of the larger meets of the season. Baldwin hosts the event and uses it as a fund-raiser.

Last year, 38 boys' and 33 girls' teams participated. Wright said he could have close to 50 teams on each side Saturday "if everybody shows up who says they are coming."

"Cathedral Prep is supposed to come down from Erie and there's a school from Morgantown, W.Va., coming and one from Ashtabula, Ohio. Plus, we're getting more of the smaller schools, like Center and Seton-LaSalle.

"This also gives the City League teams like Allderdice and Schenley a chance to measure themselves against some very good competition."

Team and individual awards, however, will be broken down into large and small schools. More runners will leave with something, even if it's a T-shirt.

"While this is a fund-raiser for us, we do this for the kids," Wright said. "It's a good early-season test for all the runners to see where they stand, and for the coaches it gives them an idea of where their team is and what they've got to do to improve."

Wright said all of the T-shirts awarded will include the initials "KG," in memory of Greensburg Salem assistant coach Kevin Gatons, who collapsed and died last year while previewing the course at the PIAA championships in Hershey.

When Wright and Baldwin took over the Red, White & Blue meet, he wasn't sure what to expect. He did believe there was a need for a large meet early in the year and thought Schenley Park, because of its central location, was the perfect venue.

What bothers him is the Red, White & Blue has taken teams away from other invitationals in the area that day.

"I know California University is trying to get its invitational going again and I feel kind of bad their meet is the same day," Wright said. "I've told coaches if they have been going to another meet for a number of years, they don't have to switch and come to ours. We don't want to put anyone else out of business.

"On the other hand, we try to run a class event and give out as many awards as possible. Like I said, we do it for the kids."

AROUND THE TRACK: The Fox Chapel girls were second to Norwin, 53-75, at the Gateway Invitational at Boyce Park. Laura Humphrey was fifth overall. ... The Fox Chapel boys were fifth. Connor Weis placed fifth in 18 minutes.On the run

What: Red, White & Blue Classic.

When: Saturday morning.

Where: Races begin and end near the oval in Schenley Park.

Times: Boys' varsity race will be at 8:50 a.m., with girls' varsity at 9:20. Boys' junior varsity race will begin at 9:50, followed by girls' varsity.

The skinny: The event will be the first major high school cross country meet of the season.



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