NEW CARLISLE – It started so simply. A handful of guys from six area high schools, running circles around the boundaries of Bourissa Hills Park.
That was 1964. New Carlisle High School coach Blaine Gamble started the first New Carlisle cross country invitational. By coincidence, the Tigers beat arch-rival Rolling Prairie for the team title, 37-56.
Four years later, New Carlisle and Rolling Prairie were combining into New Prairie High School, and the first New Prairie Cross Country Invitational was held on Sept. 26, 1968, with 22 teams.
Now, just look at it.
Saturday, Sept. 16 marks the 50th running of the Invitational. Almost 3,000 runners from approx. 100 boys teams and 100 girls teams in Indiana, Michigan and Illinois will trample the famed 5,000-meter (3.1 mile) course behind New Prairie High School during nine different races.
Admission is $5.
It is the largest high school-only athletic event in the state of Indiana. And this year, it is also the most historic. Organizers estimate somewhere around 10,000 people will visit New Prairie during the day.
New Prairie’s marching band will come down the homestretch to play the National Anthem at 8 a.m. CDT. That’s 9 a.m. town time.
The first race sets off a few minutes later and the action is non-stop, except for a brief program to introduce honored guests, until 1:30 in the afternoon (CDT).
Ah, yes, honored guests. Several of Indiana’s most famous runners are returning to revisit the course where they set records during their high school days, and to cheer on current runners.
Carey Pinkowski, the director of the Chicago Marathon, is coming back. He ran for Hammond High School in the 1970’s. So is Celeste (Susnis) Robinson, the first Indiana high school runner to win a national championship. She ran at Kankakee Valley in the 1980’s.
And there are more. Each ran in the New Prairie Invitational during his or her high school days.
There will be vendors offering discounted deals on running apparel, a Jumbotron showing clips from the races, and some of the best individual runners and top teams in the Midwest, gutting it out.
The day will be filled with activities to remind people of the Invitational’s growth over the past 50 years, and New Prairie’s successes as well. And, of course, there’s Agony Hill.
Fans should get there early – finding a parking spot can be difficult – and to make sure they receive one of the colorful 48-page programs describing the meet’s history and New Prairie’s tradition.
For participating in the meet, every runner in the field – all 3,000 of them – will receive a commemorative gift to mark the day.
There have been lots of big days in New Prairie’s athletic history. But this one may be the Biggest of All.
NEW PRAIRIE XC ALUMNI TO GATHER AT FINISH LINE
Whether you are a young Cougar or an old Cougar, all New Prairie cross country alumni are asked to gather at the finish line for a group photo between the first and second races. That should be approx. 8:40 a.m. (school time).
The picture will be taken right after the Class A boys race begins. This must happen very quickly, so don’t be late! If you miss the picture, there won’t be a chance for another one.
‘HISTORIC’ RUNNERS RETURNING TO NEW PRAIRIE INVITATIONAL
Some of the greatest runners in Indiana history are returning to the course where they set records years ago, when they were in high school. Each of them competed at the New Prairie Invitational, and will be introduced to the crowd around 9:15 a.m. (school time).
Among the honorees are:
Celeste Susnis, who ran for Kankakee Valley High School. She was Indiana’s first national high school cross country champ. She won three state championships and was later an All-SEC runner at the University of Tennessee.
Kevin Higdon, from Michigan City Elston. He was a New Prairie Invitational champ in 1976 and went on to have a record-breaking career at Indiana University. He still runs and competes to this day.
Waverly Neer, from Culver Academies. She still holds Indiana’s state record in the 1600-meter run. In college, she was a three-time All-American at Columbia University and the University of Oregon.
James Martin, from Carroll (Fort Wayne) High School. He ran the second-fastest time ever recorded on New Prairie’s 5,000-meter course (15:19.5). He also won four consecutive New Haven semistate championships and qualified for the Foot Locker national cross country finals.
Anna Weber, from Michigan City High School, She never finished better than fourth at New Prairie’s Invitational. However, following a successful college career at Marquette University, she has blossomed into one of America’s top women’s marathoners, and is currently training for the 2020 Olympic Trials.
Carey Pinkowski, Indiana boys state champion in 1973-1974 and currently the director of the Chicago Marathon. He ran for Hammond High School and won a New Prairie Invitational title in 1974.
GREAT DEALS AND TECHNOLOGY IN VENDOR SHOWCASE
New Prairie has partnered with Fleet Feet Sports of Mishawaka and Extra Mile Fitness Company of Valparaiso to offer great deals on athletic gear and fun activities for runners, parents of runners and friends of runners throughout the meet on Saturday, Sept. 16.
Among other things:
A Snapchat filter will be set up near the concession stand, specific to the New Prairie Invitational. Come and have your picture taken!
New Balance shoes will be setting up a “spike bar” that allows athletes to zip out their old shoelaces and zip in new ones – perhaps with school colors? – in a matter of seconds.
There will be tremendous deals on running attire. Fleet Feet will be offering cross country spikes from New Balance and Saucony for as low as $30.
CHANCE TO RUN (OR RE-RUN) NEW PRAIRIE’S FAMED 5K COURSE
Lots of folks have heard about New Prairie’s famous 5,000-meter cross country course. One Internet running site said it is one of the top ten in the nation.
Are you ready to take a crack at it?
In honor of the 50th running of the New Prairie Invitational, former Cougars are holding a special race following the girls reserve competition.
All New Prairie alumni are invited to participate. Actually, everyone’s invited … it’s an open race.
There is no entry fee and there are no prizes, other than: you get to tell your friends that you did it yourself.
It should start around 12:55 p.m. CDT.
FOLLOW ON FACEBOOK
Be sure to visit the New Prairie Invitational page on Facebook! The address is: https://www.facebook.com/NPCCInv/