United Way Invitational enters 19th year today

The 19th annual United Way Unifour Cross Country Invitational takes place today at Southside Park in Newton.

Thirty-seven high schools and 1,189 runners will participate in the event, which is scheduled to have six races between approximately 3:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.

“This is really unique in that it is a high school athletic event,” said organizer John Hall. “It’s certainly one of the largest events in this area. We’ve got some of the best 3A and 4A teams in the state coming. We also have some really great 2A teams. There will be some really good competition.”

The event was first held in 1993 at a make-shift course in Hickory, but has made its home at Southside since 1994.

“I would give huge kudos to the city of Newton and their recreation department,” Hall said. “They’ve given us the park, mobilized their people to help and do a tremendous job.”

Hall said that the park fits what the event is trying to accomplish, while also providing those in attendance with added benefits.

“In a typical cross-country race when you’re a parent, you see your sons or daughters take off at the start line, they disappear into the woods or fields and you see them when they come back,” Hall said. “This course, where if you stand in the middle of the park, you can see the kids run. That’s been real well-received. We’ll have a lot of parents and friends out there watching.”

During the event, Lenoir-Rhyne senior runner Kate Griewisch will deliver a speech.

“One of the things we wanted to do is bring a message of some sort to kids,” Hall said. “Kate is somebody that these youngsters can relate to because she’s been where they are at. She’ll talk to them about doing their best in cross-country, but how that translates into the classroom, community service and all the things you want to excel at.”

Despite iffy weather on Tuesday, Hall said that the weather for Wednesday will provide ideal conditions for everyone involved.

“The only weather that would stop a cross-country event would be lightning,” Hall said. “Two or three years ago, we ran in an absolute monsoon. The kids ran in that. They go all fall to places where they are in the mud, rain and cold. It probably makes it harder on us who are trying to run the thing. It’ll proceed regardless.”