By GAVIN LAPAILLE
Gold Standard Sports Editor
Former Garrison Commander Col. Bruce Jenkins had a vision to host a quality cross-country course on post. That vision will soon become a reality.
For the first time, the Fort Knox High School cross-country teams won’t have to travel for a competition. The Eagles host the Gold Rush Invitational Saturday at Heard Park in conjunction with John Hardin High School.
The meet comes after nearly a year of effort from members of the community in developing a loop around Heard Park. The 5k course takes runners around the park three times, and will be a major challenge to participants due to its steep hills.
“It’s the toughest course they’ll run on all year,” boy’s cross-country head coach Scott Curley said. “We’re looking at these kids adding a good two to three minutes onto their times.”
Bill Core, Chief Warrant Officer 3 with the 3rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), was tasked with the responsibility of developing the course and did so with a fan-friendly atmosphere in mind.
“I was looking for a spectator-friendly type of course so parents could see their athletes as many times as possible without running all over the place,” said Core, who is also the girl’s cross-country coach at John Hardin. “You can be here and watch your child run and keep cheering them on from this one field area.”
Much work has gone into making Heard Park ready for the competitors. Jenkins believed Heard Park was an ideal location, and Core initially ran the trails in an effort to determine where the course could be set up. Once potential start and finish lines were established, the course had to be certified by the KHSAA.
Some of the challenges included getting racing officials, authorized timers and having Emergency Medical Services on standby. There were also certain guidelines the course had to meet in order to receive certification. The park and trail are open to the general public year-around for recreational use.
The course is unique because unlike most, the surface is the same throughout. The course is 12 feet wide throughout, giving runners plenty of room to run side-by-side if they choose.
“This is a perfect surface all the way through,” Core said. “The course is almost exclusively through trees and forests.”
The high school meet should be highly competitive, with five teams in both the boys and girls varsity races scheduled to appear. Joining Fort Knox will be Central Hardin, John Hardin, Elizabethtown and Grayson County.
The Fort Knox boys will be led by seniors Richard Thackrey and Redmon Johnson and sophomore Austin Martineau, all who finished in the top 40 at the Fairgrounds Frenzy/Central Hardin Invitational Saturday. Freshman Shannon Brown and sophomore Vannessa Jackson will be the top competitors for the girls.
The Eagles should have an advantage having been practicing on the course.
“We’re familiar with the course. Others won’t be,” girl’s head coach Garland Knott said.
The rest of the field for the boys includes Grayson County junior Bret Crawford, ranked fourth in Class 3-A. Central Hardin’s Jackson Cooper and Christian Wright and Elizabethtown’s Chas Warden should be the top competitors for the Gold Rush crown.
On the girls side, Elizabethtown’s Hannah Godfrey and Savannah Kingery, Central Hardin’s Abbie Chandler and John Hardin’s Sara Canada will pose the biggest challenges to the field.
Thackrey said he’s exited to run the home course for the first and last time in his career.
“It’s the first one I’ve ever had,” Thackrey said. “I’m looking forward to coming out and having fun and getting the best time I can.”
One of the advantages to hosting a meet is giving people from off post the chance to see Fort Knox up close and personal.
“I don’t think too many kids get to see Fort Knox and know what we do here,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a different experience and it’s fun to host one and have people come on post.”
The varsity girls race will be held at 9:30 a.m., followed by a varsity boys race. There will also be a middle school girls and boys race at 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. respectively. The John Hardin booster club and Fort Knox volunteers will run a concession stand, and T-shirts will be on sale. Awards start at 11 a.m., and the top ten finishers in each varsity race will receive a free hat from Asics.