By Marc Bloom
3/12/04 -- Unveiling a new program that promises greater opportunity for young runners throughout America, Nike today announced plans for a national high school team cross-country meet to be held later this year at the end of the 2004 fall season.
The post-season event, called the Nike Team Nationals, will showcase 20 boys teams and 20 girls teams with more than 300 runners, and will be held Saturday, December 4, in the Portland , Oregon area, where Nike is headquartered. The specific race course will be determined shortly.
Teams will be chosen based a new and expanded regional ranking system produced by high school cross country expert Marc Bloom, editor of The Harrier m agazine who has been ranking high school cross country teams for 15 y ears . All 40 teams, including an adult representative for each team, will receive expenses paid by Nike. In the spirit of team cross-country, all 7 runners plus an alternate will be awarded an expenses-paid trip to the nationals.
The top 2 boys and girls teams in the end-of-season rankings from each of 8 regions, plus 4 at-large selections each for boys and girls, will make up the 20-team fields for the Nationals. The event executive committee will contribute expertise to The Harrier rankings throughout the season, and the committee will choose the at-large teams once the state meets are over. At-large berths will be weighted on end-of-season performances.
The Nike Team Nationals is the first national high school team meet for any sport in the United States . The program will be sanctioned by USA Track & Field, running's national governing body, and be held in concert with the club cross-country nationals, a post-collegiate event, and the USATF convention, both scheduled for that same December 4 weekend in Portland.
USATF will also help facilitate the Nike Team Nationals entry process. Teams will compete as USATF-affiliated clubs. Entries will be done on the Nike Team Nationals meet website, in conjunction with the USATF. Nike will provide team racing uniforms.
“We look forward to working with Nike on this exciting new program,” said Bill Roe, president of USA Track & Field. “Here is a chance for cross country to be showcased and the spotlight put on high school teams. More high school runners will be touched by this event than by any other national program, perhaps convincing many more athletes to continue their running in college and beyond.”
The Nike Team Nationals is an outgrowth of popular events like the Great American Festival, Mt. SAC cross country invitational and the Manhattan College invitational that draw top high school teams from around the country. These schools strive for success beyond their own states, searching for yet higher levels of excellence, and national rankings, against the best competition from all sectors of the nation. In the past, the final number-1 rankings were open to question. Now, with the Nike Team Nationals, definitive national champions will be crowned.
To be eligible for a nationals berth, teams must show superiority within their state and region. Victories and high finishes in major invitationals and against other top teams demonstrate comparative strength. Success in state championships is a critical factor. Course difficulty and race conditions vary greatly and those factors are considered in making evaluations. Close to 100 experts among coaches, officials and media will contribute assessments to The Harrier rankings.
“The team championship will motivate hundreds, if not thousands, of runners nationwide to seek new levels of excellence year-around,” said Josh Rowe , Nike's youth running manager whose initiative led to the Nike Team Nationals. “We also hope to foster values of teamwork that are important to young runners on and off the course.”
Rowe also emphasized the pivotal role of team cross-country as the foundation of distance running. Virtually every top American distance runner seeking Olympic berths, and medals, for Athens this summer got his or her first inspiration, and sense of future promise, on the high school cross-country team. Whether it was the pride in completing a few miles in practice, moving up the team ladder in meets, achieving personal bests or finding a coach who enabled them to soar, Olympic hopefuls, from Meb Keflezighi to Alan Webb, Sarah Schwald to Suzy Favor Hamilton, saw their futures shine as teenagers pumping up steep hills and through the finish at high school meets.
Because of cross-country's egalitar ian scoring system, runners far behind someone of Webb's stature count just as much in the team outcome. As in no other sport, a team's 5 th scorer is as important as the 1 st , and there is great drama as the runners file across the finish and a trailing youngster gives it his all for team points even while placing in mid-pack. The youngster earns points for character as well as for the team.
“Our mission has always been to help elevate American running at every level,” said John Capriotti, Nike's global director of running and track & field. “All the best runners, going back to Olympic greats like Alberto Salazar, Frank Shorter and Steve Prefontaine started out running on their high school cross-country teams. By putting team competition in the spotlight, we hope to give today's young runners the same start on the road to success.”
The Nike Team Nationals is the latest high school event in Nike's youth sponsorship program. Other events include the Manhattan College high school cross-country invitational in New York, Mount San Antonio College high school cross-country invitational in southern California and Great American Cross Country Festival in Cary, North Carolina, all in October, as well as the Arcadia outdoor track invitational in southern California in April, Penn Relays in April and Nike Indoor Championship in Landover, Maryland in March.
Meet management of the Nike Team Nationals will be handled by the National Scholastic Sports Foundation, which conducts the Great American and the Nike indoor meets as well as the adidas Outdoor Nationals in Raleigh in June.
The Harrier Super 25 National Rankings, begun in 1989, will continue as before, but The Harrier will expand and revamp its regional rankings in the following manner:
*Northeast (9 states): Connecticut , Maine , Massachusetts , New Hampshire , New Jersey , New York , Pennsylvania , Rhode Island , Vermont .
*Southeast (10 states): Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.
*South (5 states): Arkansas , Louis ian a , Mississippi , Oklahoma , Texas .
*Midwest (6 states): Illinois , Ind ian a , Michigan , Ohio , Wisconsin .
*Heartland (7 states): Iowa , Kansas , Minnesota , Missouri , Nebraska , North Dakota , South Dakota .
*Southwest (5 states): Arizona , Colorado , Nevada , New Mexico , Utah .
*Northwest (7 states): Alaska , Hawaii , Idaho , Montana , Oregon , Washington , Wyoming , plus Pacific possessions.
* California .
Once state meets are held in a given region, team
invitations will be extended. This will be done in a two-step process.
On November 14, after most state meets have been completed, invitations will be extended to the top 2 teams in the Southeast, Midwest , Heartland, Southwest and Northwest. Also on Nov. 14, 2 at-large teams for boys and girls will be announced. Then, on November 28, invitations will be extended to the top 2 teams in the Northeast, South and West, and at that time, the last 2 at-large teams (which can come from any of the 8 regions) will be announced to complete the fields.
Prominent coaches nationwide greeted the Nike Team Nationals with great excitement. “We applaud Nike for understanding that cross-country is a team sport,” said Linda Kranick, who with her husband Art coaches the national #1-ranked Saratoga Springs girls team from upstate New York . “It's not just one or two individuals that factor into the scoring. There's a lot of camaraderie and a lot more to team success than just running. We're very excited about a national team competition.”
Top teams from coast to coast that have dreamed of competing against Saratoga and other national powers will now have that chance. Next fall, The Harrier rankings will appear weekly on DyeStat.com, and a national drumbeat for cross-country and distance running will grow louder and more compelling as the season unfolds. Teams large and small, from big cities and remote hamlets, will feel their hearts beat not only with hard training but with the driving force of the Nike Team Nationals, which will decide once and for all: who's number 1?
“Nike believes that young athletes who have a diverse and enriching experience will become better runners and future leaders, in and out of sports,” said Capriotti. “We are committed to tapping the qualities of our finest young people whose values of cross-country teamwork should be inspirational to us all.”
The Nike Team Nationals meet management executive committee is headed by Rowe. Other members, among the nation's foremost authorities on high school running, are Jim Spier and A.J. Holzherr of the National Scholastic Sports Foundation, John Dye of DyeStat.com, Arcadia Invitational director Rich Gonzalez of DyeStatCal.com, The Harrier editor Marc Bloom who compiles the national team rankings, and Danny Green, who has coached The Woodlands High School of Texas for over 30 years. #