(photo/Chris Hawk)

By Mike Monahan

Four local girls have been invited to compete in an unofficial state cross country championship.

Charleston’s Megan Garrett, Grace Spoonhour and Ila Richter will head to Chillicothe next Saturday as will Mattoon’s Kylie Haacke.

Mattoon’s Brock Davee, who set a PR in running 15:48 to finish third in regional and took 11th at sectionals, has also been invited.

Since this is not an IHSA event, athletes cannot compete as representatives of schools.

Charleston eighth-grader Hadley Webb (above) took 41st in Sunday’s unofficial middle school cross country race in Chillicothe among the 164 runners. Webb finished in 12 minutes, 58 seconds for the 2-mile race. Seventh-grader Maggie Englum, who also ran for Charleston Middle during the season, clocked 13:38 fo 85th overall at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe.

Webb had won her sectional in 12:23 and Englum finished sixth in 13:26 in Taylorville a week earlier. 

No Mattoon middle school runners were invited to the race.

“They have done a great job and my hats off to them (the committee),” said Charleston Middle School coach John McInerney.

This is the first time Charleston or Mattoon middle schoolers have had a postseason race.

“The kids are excited,” McInerney said. “It will be tough since it is in one group (middle school is all No. 1 runners from all three classes), No. 2 runners from all three classes, etc.) The girls are excited. It is a monster meet for sure. There are a lot of club teams from suburban Chicago, who don’t compete in the IESA.”

Because these races are not affiliated with IESA or IHSA, McInerney was not allowed to serve as a coach for this event. Neither is Mattoon coach Troy Haacke nor Charleston coaches Chris Hawk and Greg Rogers.

The names of the schools have to be changed to club names and not include the entire high school or junior high name. 

As already reported, the IHSA decided it would not run a high school state championship at Detweiler Park because of health concerns related to Covid-19.

So Shazam/RC Outfitter, Milesplit and several other sponsors created the 2020 Cross Country Championships.

“We all know Covid and we live in a really uncertain time,” Adam White from ShaZam/RC Outfitters said in a video on Milesplit Illinois. “Organizations and everybody is doing the best they can in a very, very challenging time and with that we know that both the IESA and IHSA had to make a decision to cut the fall sports for certain sports they had to push certain ones off and for some of them they had to cut the season short. With that it left a void for the championship season.”

ShaZam racing has been in the business of putting on events for more than 10 years.

White, a Peoria Notre Dame three-time all-stater, and his business partner Brad Henz both ran at Wabash College. 

“We are so very passionate about cross country because it made us who we are,” said White. “We saw an opportunity, a responsibility to  step up and provide something for junior high and High school athletes here in the state. We understand that both IESA and IHSA were not able to do certain things, but we were.” 

To be in the races, coaches have to apply. A selection committee led by Milesplit Illinois and ShaZam Racing was responsible for evaluating the club and individual applications.

“I think it (invites for both junior high and high school) weighs heavily on your sectional results,” said Charleston Middle School coach and former Eastern Illinois cross country coach John McInerney. 

Spectators run in groups of 50 with 30 feet between them and there will be ample parking, according to White. 

“There will be one way in and one way out, and we will be taking temperatures of every carload that comes in,” said White. “There are lots of activities happening. We see it in baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer tournaments and they will continue as club sports. We have been learning best practices from all organizations hosting safe sporting events for all individuals. We want it to be safe and fun for everyone involved. We learned from those organizations as to their best practice to have these cross country championships.” 

Garrett ran a 19:35.1 to take fourth at the Taylorville Regional while Spoonhour clocked 20:25.5 for 11th. Kylie Haacke took third in the regional and 11th in the sectional meet last Saturday in Olney.

“They have done a great job and my hats off to them (the committee),” said McInerney.

This is the first time Charleston or Mattoon middle schoolers have had a postseason race.

“The kids are excited,” McInerney said. “It will be tough since it is in one group (middle school is all No. 1 runners from all three classes), No. 2 runners from all three classes, ect.) The girls are excited. It is a monster meet for sure. There are a lot of club teams from suburban Chicago who don’t compete in the IESA.”