October 1st – Sneak Peak: Indiana Middle School Championships
By: Ben Houston
On Saturday, October 4th, a small army of runners, along with friends, family members, and fans will converge on the Northview Christian Church cross country course in Carmel for the Indiana Middle School Cross Country State Championships.
Now in its 14th year, the middle school state meet has become a staple of the Indiana running scene. “We made the decision, from the very beginning, that we were going to spare no expense, monetary or otherwise, in making our event the best it could be” says Matt Wire, the meet’s veteran race director. Evidence of this goal is not hard to find. With six races throughout the day, a budget which typically tops $12,000 each year, scores of volunteers, custom awards and event apparel, the meet rivals the best high school meets in the state in terms of size and quality.
First held in 2000, the middle school state championship grew out of the activities of the Indiana All-Star Running Club. Wire, along with former Carmel High School/current IUPUI head coach Chuck Koeppen, and Indianapolis masters running figurehead Doug Schmidt** conceived of the meet as a way to give back to the state’s running community. Specifically, the goal of the meet was to bring together as many junior high teams on the same course at the same time in order to give runners a fun, competitive environment which mimicked the high school state meet. The first event was held at Southeastway Park and drew a field of around 400 runners from across the state. After several years, the event moved to the golf course at Forest Park in Noblesville, before finally settling in Carmel at the Northview course.
Although the meet is not formally sanctioned or sponsored by an existing state-wide organization, Wire’s philosophy from the very start has been one of inclusion and openness for schools, teams, and coaches. Unlike the high school state meet, there are relatively few qualification standards, and those which do exist are more like guidelines. Teams are invited at the beginning of the fall season, and it is entirely up to the athletic and coaching staffs of individual schools whether or not to participate. Each school enters their top 7 boys and girls in the varsity race. There also junior varsity races, as well as an opportunity for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders to toe the line in their own separate event.
The development of a state-wide championship at the middle school level has not occurred without opposition. Hesitancy to allow athletes to participate has been demonstrated by several school administrations and athletic department staffs across the state. Wire believes this is due to a fear of the meet setting the precedent for school corporations having to provide state championships for other middle school sports as well. While many school systems in the state do not explicitly bar their middle schools from sending squads to the meet, some require runners to compete as a club, without the use of school uniforms, logos, or transportation. While coaches and athletes are still able to compete utilizing the club option, the wishes of individual school districts still take precedent. If a principal or athletic director says no, then quite often that is the final word on the matter.
Despite the concerns the middle school state meet has continued to grow, bringing in more schools with each passing year. A number of middle schools which feed into competitive high school programs currently attend, either as a school-sponsored team or as a non-affiliated running club. For many runners and coaches alike, the meet has become the focus of the season. According to Coach Jim Blackwell of Pendleton Heights, a strong performance at the middle school state meet is not only the goal which he sets down for each season, but is also the goal of his athletes as well. “The state meet is the meet we train for all year” Blackwell emphasized over the phone. “They [the runners] look forward to it all year long.”
Such sentiments were echoed by 1st year head coach Brienn Miller of Clay Middle School in Carmel. “The kids love the state meet….it is something that the kids as well as parents look forward to. The meet is not in our schedule through the middle school but we add it in as something the kids enjoy to do.”
Much like its high school counterpart, the state meet has succeeded in bringing out the best in young runners each year. The list of top boys and girls times reads like who’s-who of some of the best Indiana runners of the past decade. “No place else gives us that kind of competition” said Coach Blackwell. “They [runners] can run against Warsaw. They can run against some of the Fort Wayne schools. They can run against schools from down south. There is no other meet like that.”
This environment of high-caliber competition is a major part of what has and will continue to make the event so successful. When asked, Wire was understandably guarded but overall optimistic about the future of the middle school state meet. “Our goal is to keep it growing and keep improving” he said thoughtfully, mentioning also that beyond that, he has many ideas as to where he would like to take the meet. Since the meet operates as a non-profit, the typical budgets concerns remain year-to-year. Wire expressed the hope of acquiring a big-name corporate athletic sponsor at some point, which would greatly help in covering the growing expenses for putting on such a high caliber meet. At the end of the day though, Wire hopes that the meet will continue to fulfill its mission of providing the best possible competitive experience to young runners in Indiana.
For more information on the Middle School State Championship, visit: http://www.indianaallstarrunningclub.com/
And for those of you who decided to keep reading instead of clicking that link, here is the race-day schedule and a look at the top returners in each varsity category.
Meet Time schedule:
Check-In/Packet Pick-up…………………………………9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Course closes to walks/Opening Ceremony……11:15 a.m.
JV Girls/Boys…………………………………………………11:30/11:55 a.m.
Small School Varsity Girls………………………………12:20 p.m.
Big School Varsity Girls………………………………….12:45 p.m.
Small School Varsity Boys………………………………1:10 p.m.
Big School Varsity Boys………………………………….1:35 p.m.
Gr.3-4-5 (Girls and Boys)………………………………..2:00 p.m.
Awards Ceremony………………………………………….2:30-3:30 p.m.
Top Ten Returners for Each Division (Small/Big School) based on last year’s results:
Big School Girls
Emily Stutzman – Westview – 8
Callie Metzger – Unattached – 8
Carmen Yoder – Wawasee – 8
Lauren Rinehart – Brownsburg East – 7
Meghan Long – Kahler MS – 8
Ashton Chase – Seymour – 8
Allison Abbey – Western – 8
Kendal Cuniffe – Trojan XC – 8
Haley Tomlinson – Noblesville West – 8
Aubrey Swart – Noblesville West – 8
Big School Boys
Lucas Upton – Pendleton Heights – 8
Luke Griner – Wawasee – 8
Calvin Bates – Trojan XC – 8
Dustin Hudak – Lowell – 8
Thomas Gastineau – Trojan XC – 8
Justin Amburgy – Noblesville West – 8
Milan Jones – Pendleton Heights – 8
Grant Wilson – Riverside – 8
Zach Wilson – Cougar XC Club – 8
Andrew Noel – Noblesville East – 8
Small School Girls
Emma Wilson – Greencastle – 8
McKenna Cavanaugh – Christian Academy of Indiana – 8
Myah Krintz – Unattached – 7
Allyssa Fanning – Bremen – 8
Delaynie Grove – South Knox – 8
Seelye Stoffregan – Greencastle – 8
Kendra Muhlenkamp – East Jay – 8
Macy Emmons – Perry Central – 8
Grace Hanley – Immaculate Heart of Mary – 8
Ellie Schroder – Our Lady of Mount Carmel – 8
Small School Boys:
Trevor Brayden – Morgan Township – 8
Eric Million – Greensburg – 8
Jayden Hardesty – Christian Academy of Indiana – 7
Reece Gibson – Norwell – 7
Luke Savage – Morgan Township – 7
Connor Torson – Norwell – 7
Logan House – Norwell – 7
Bryce Dunn – Christian Academy of Indiana – 7
Trevor Foster – Greensburg – 8
Dawson Sparks – South Knox – 8
**Doug Schmidt was an avid runner and a major player in the formation and administration of the Indiana All-Star Running Club and Camp as well as the establishment of the Middle School State Meet. A friend to all runners, Doug tragically passed away in June, 2007. He left a legacy of dedication, hard work and passion to runners of all levels across the state.