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Mixed feelings on shift of cross country state championship meet

Anyone who’s tried to conquer the brutal cross country course at Hereford High School knows “The Dip” and “The Maze,” as well as “The Cornfield.”

While on the course, runners know the pain they’ll endure as they go up big hills and navigate sharp turns, needing to keep their composure in order to find success. Many believe the difficulty of the three-mile course is why Hereford should host the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state championship meet each year.

Since 1980, Hereford has hosted the annual meet in every year except 1991 and 1992, when construction at the school forced the event to be moved to then-Western Maryland College — and it’s happening again this year.

The MPSSAA said there’s an agreement in place to move the Nov. 9 meet to McDaniel College this year as construction at Hereford once again makes the school’s course unavailable. As of now, the shift appears to be for this year only, but that could change.

Moving the meet from Hereford is about more than just the physical shift, however, because the course is both well-respected and well-known. In 2002, DyeStat.com called it the “toughest three miles in cross country.”

The popular Bull Run Invitational, which typically brings more than 100 schools each September to Hereford, also was canceled this year because of the construction. Teams often participated in that event in order to preview the course, hoping it would help at the state meet.

Many of the state’s top high school cross country runners have ran on the course over the past 30 years, something to which they look forward — despite the difficulty.

“Perhaps I am overly nostalgic, but I think it is a shame that athletes won’t be able to measure themselves against the performance of greats like [former Broadneck star] Matt Centrowitz and others,” said Jason Bowman, who stepped down as Hereford’s coach this year when he left to teach at another school. “It is nice when a state meet is held at the same location for a multitude of years, so that athletes can compare themselves against the performances of their predecessors.”

But other coaches feel the Hereford course is, quite simply, too tough.

Reservoir coach Phil Rogers, who led his girls team to the Class 3A state championship last year, won’t argue the toughness of the course. He just wonders if it’s too much.

“I believe, and I come from a background where a state championship cross country course should be fair for all teams in the state,” Rogers said. “As it stands, at Hereford, the course is considered not only the hardest in the state, but one of the hardest in the country.

“It’s a great course, but it’s not a state championship course, [and] I am hoping that moving the course to a more neutral site, such as McDaniel, will give other schools a chance to succeed.”

All cross country courses are different, and McDaniel will give the runners and coaches a new look. Some already know the course and believe it’s good for the state meet. When the event was held at the college in the early 1990s, everything went fine.

Chad Boyle, a longtime coach at Dulaney, ran on the course in the 1992 state championship meet while he was a student at C.Milton Wright. Six years later, Boyle won his first invitational as a coach there (the Westminster Invitational).

“As a runner, I remember the course to be a fair course with a nice mix of rolling hills, with one substantial hill to conquer in the middle of the race,” Boyle said. “It is a good opportunity for McDaniel to showcase their cross country course, and provides a worthy substitute for Hereford’s temporary situation.”

North Harford coach Eric Benjamin agreed with Boyle, saying that a challenging course is important for a good state title race.

“Moving [the] meet to McDaniel will not really change much in how coaches will structure their training as it is a relatively rolling course,” Benjamin said. “It really won’t be cross country if you had it on a course that was more like running a 5K on the track.”

In the end, some coaches said it should be about the competition, not the course. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, regardless of that race’s location.

“I have coached for 15 years and have always been at Hereford for states, so it will be a very different experience for me, personally, as well as the boys,” said Severna Park coach Josh Alcombright, whose Falcons won the Class 4A boys state title last fall. “But I am excited to see a new venue and how it plays out. But in all honesty, no matter the venue, the competition should be the main focus when it comes to states. That’s all that matters.”

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