Historic first for Belpre cross country team

Planning began last October for Saturdays event

Photo by Jay W. Bennett Belpre High School’s Jackson Plummer, pictured here earlier this year competing at the Elizabeth S. Broughton Memorial Invitational in Marietta, will try and help his teammates capture the inaugural Belpre Cross Country Invitational on Saturday inside Civitan Park.

BELPRE — A lot of work has gone into Saturday morning’s inaugural Belpre Cross Country Invitational, which is set to get underway at 10 a.m. inside Civitan Park with the varsity boys kicking off the meet followed by the varsity girls.

“It was a vision last October, but since the spring we’ve been working hard, meeting monthly and as of late weekly with a group of about 10 community members and board members, athletic directors and coaches just to decide on the dynamics and the aspects of the race,” said Belpre head coach Jen Wells.

“It’s been amazing. It’s definitely been a lot of work, but we have about 70 volunteers coming and I really credit (Parkersburg High School boys track coach) Rod (O’Donnell) and his work on the West Virginia side. We have six or seven West Virginia schools and that doesn’t happen very often where the two states combine for one big meet. It will be a lot of fun to race different teams.”

There is an adult open race at 8 a.m. and following the high school contests, the middle schools will run as the invitational will close with a 1-mile race for kids.

In all, there are 20 prep varsity teams expected.

“It’s going to run diagonally across the soccer field in back of Wendy’s,” O’Donnell said of the start line. “Then we will loop that field and go over to the park behind the treatment plant. We’ll do that loop two times and the finish line is going to be over by the gazebo in the park.

“We wanted the finish line where the registration and awards are going to be and we’ll have concession and T-shirt people. We’re looking at this as a long range project. We’re just really happy we had a great response this year.”

Although O’Donnell added “some of these teams aren’t huge teams, for the first year the numbers are good.”

Wells said the event is scheduled to have 551 runners.

“As far as a large invitational, this is the first and the biggest,” added Wells, who noted years ago the Golden Eagles had races around the high school. “I’m 100 percent confident we never had a meet where we had 20 schools participating.

“So much of this meet and the success of this meet goes to Rod because he’s put his heart and soul into it and we appreciate all the hard work. He and his wife Cathy have been a huge help throughout the whole process.”

In the future, the hope is to make this one of the biggest meets in the Tri-State area.

“We wanted to grow this to where we could have a major meet,” Rod O’Donnell added. “We figured eight or 10 teams the first year, but we got double the amount coming. It’s been very uplifting the way the town has got behind it.

“We got off the ground this year and hopefully we can keep expanding and expanding it. I don’t know how many donors we’ve had either through service or time or money. We didn’t think it would be this big our first year. We’ve had unbelievable cooperation with the town.”

Along with the host Golden Eagles, also expected to participate on the varsity level are Caldwell, Charleston Catholic, East Fairmont, Eastern, Federal Hocking, Marietta, Nelsonville-York, Parkersburg Catholic, Ritchie County, River Valley, St. Albans, Teays Valley Christian, Tyler Consolidated, Warren, Waterford, Wirt County, Fort Frye, Woodrow Wilson and Ripley.

“We are excited,” Wells added of seeing how her runners can do, especially the boys. “We are looking to go first or second. We are going to be facing good competition with Warren and Ritchie County. Ritchie was first at the Marietta Broughton meet and we were third and Warren was just a couple points behind us.

“Our junior high boys are suddenly getting first meet by meet and they will be challenged by Ritchie County as well. On the girls side, we don’t have a full team with the high school girls due to injuries, but we expect our girls to run well. It will be nice to have some home-field advantage.”