Prep Cross Country: Ray Wherley draws 20 teams to Prescott Saturday
PRESCOTT - About 600 runners representing 20 high school varsity boys and girls teams from across Arizona will compete in the 34th annual Ray Wherley Cross Country Invitational Saturday at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, 3700 Willow Creek Road.
Prescott High girls cross country coach Clark Tenney, now in his fourth year as the race's director, said the meet likely represents the largest annual prep sporting event in Yavapai County.
Tenney said squads are coming from as far away as Tucson for six separate races that begin at 9:30 a.m. behind ERAU's Activity Center on the campus' west side.
Local and regional teams competing over the weekend include Prescott, Bradshaw Mountain, Chino Valley, Sedona Red Rock and Cottonwood Mingus.
Several squads from northern Arizona are also scheduled to appear, including Flagstaff Coconino and Winslow.
Other teams to keep an eye on are Peoria Sunrise Mountain and Glendale Mountain Ridge on the girls' side and Phoenix Arcadia for the boys.
"The meet has been mostly out at Embry-Riddle (through the years), and they're terrific," Tenney said. "We just really appreciate how good they are at allowing us to use their facility and providing the room out there, helping with some of the setup and cleanup free of charge."
The meet's unique format remains the same this year, and it was created by former successful longtime Prescott cross country coach and English teacher Ray Wherley, who started the invitational in the late 1970s.
Tenney said a lot of teams like the Wherley meet because of that format, in addition to the challenging course and the fact that the weather is generally pleasant for runners.
In the meet, each team's Nos. 1-7 seed runners take part in separate races. This promotes a more even competition and gives additional runners the chance to earn a medal. For example, all of the No. 1 runners (the best) from the squads compete only against one another in one race, all of the No. 2 and No. 3 runners face only each other in another race, and so on.
(See schedule graphic on Page 5B)
"The last race of the day is the No. 1 runner from each team racing only against each other," Tenney said. "It's kind of exciting that way."
Another unique aspect to the meet is that the boys and girls runners start together at the same time and place on the course and come back together at the end. The boys' course is 3.1 miles, while the girls' course is 2.5 miles.
"The boys do two long loops and the girls do two kind of medium-length loops (on the trails in back of Embry-Riddle)," Tenney said. "Everybody starts at the same time, but a lot of the finishers come in at the same time. We have two chutes - one for boys, one for girls."
Yet another rather unique part about the format is that a cumulative time is tabulated for each team's Nos. 1-7 runners. The team champion is determined by which squad has the best cumulative time.
The invitational typically draws between 15 to 23 teams each year. Tenney said that considering the tough economy he's pleased that 20 squads chose to participate this weekend. Last year, the Wherley Invite drew 17 clubs.
"We have noted that at the invitationals that we've been to so far (this year) and have been in contact with, the numbers are down in other invitationals," he said. "Teams are being limited because of budget constraints to only going out of the county one time sometimes."
For example, last Wednesday, Phoenix Greenway High School's cross country team traveled to Prescott to compete against the Badgers and Phoenix Sunnyslope for its lone meet outside of Maricopa County this fall.
Last Saturday at the popular Peaks Invitational in Flagstaff, Tenney said only about 35 teams showed up when there are typically 40-50 squads involved.
"They were down significantly," he said.