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This is the next installment in a series of articles looking back at the 1987 CIF-State Cross Country Championships, the first in California.
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When it came time to decide where to hold the first-ever state cross country championship, there were a lot of possibilities. There was also a clear front-runner based on numerous considerations -- Woodward Park in Fresno.
Experience hosting major meets, support staff, location and the quality of the course were four major considerations.
Balboa Park in San Diego had already hosted the highly successful Kinney National Championships (now the Foot Locker Nationals), the section championships, a major invitational and weekly dual meets.
But being in the far end of the state, even with an abundance of air flights and lodging available, meant that travel could be a potential problem. The city would have to approve the date every year, meaning three major meets (section, state, Foot Locker Nationals) in four weeks in a public park would be dicey.
Mt. SAC in the Southern Section also had a history of hosting what most considered the biggest invitational of the season as well as the section championships. But while many considered the course challenging, others said it was too much so and unfair to those who might never have run on it.
There were other considerations but when it came right down to it, Woodward Park in Fresno checked off every box and then some.
Woodward Park had hosted the Kinney West Regionals, the Central Section championships, college and AAU championships successfully. While every site could say it had support, Woodward Park had the staunch backing of the entire Clovis Unified School District and the city.
Additionally, some of the coaches had been part of the Northern California Championships which, although they weren't held at Woodward Park, had brought together all but the Southern, Los Angeles City and San Diego sections.
"The clincher, though, was its location right in the center of the state," said Peter Brewer, who at the time was at Castro Valley High where he would be for 25 years.
"Fresno Pacific coach Bill Cockerham had been involved in the Kinney West Nationals and Carlo Prandini was with the Clovis district and he put it on himself to make sure it happened.
"At the time, there was some anti-Mt. SAC sentiment with some thinking that course was too difficult for a state meet. Different sections were running different distances in their championships but the 3.1-mile course that they had used in all of the major meets and still used to this day, was determined to be the course. Since it worked, why change it?"
While Fresno didn't have an international airport, it was still close enough for everyone to drive to the day before without having the student-athletes miss much school.
That location factor was huge.
Most cross country coaches were also track coaches and they were growing weary of switching from the north to the south every other year. Basketball, too, had state championships where they were constantly moving, in theory to make sure no part of the state had an advantage.
But placing the meet in the center of the state on an established course in a city-owned park that was designated for that use by the Woodward family, seemed ideal. Especially since the Central Section coaches were so supportive.
As for the course itself, those used to running on monster facilities like Mt. SAC or Balboa Park would soon learn while there was just one very steep but fairly short incline at Woodward Park, it wasn't particularly easy.
"I call it an honest course," said Brewer.
For veteran runners like Rancho Buena Vista's Kira Jorgensen, who would capture the Division II in 1987 in the fastest time of the day, 17:34, and the Division I title in 1988, also in the fastest time of the meet, 17:42, it was a perfect course.
"I have a fondness for the course," said Jorgensen, who is now an aeronautical engineering professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "I'd already run on it twice for the Kinney West Regionals and it's always good to put it on the line against quality athletes.
"The course itself was no Mt. SAC but it did have a hill just when you were starting to feel it. It undulates all over, rolling cycles of ups and downs. The start and finish -- well, I'd never seen so many people and you could hear the excitement in their voices.
"Kinney was run on the exact same course but it definitely wasn't the same. This course was close enough to everyone's family to come and there was a team factor -- you were running for your school."
The longer the meet was held at Woodward Park, the fewer complaints were heard because indeed Clovis Unified took great pride in having the best possible meet.
Some other pluses became quickly obvious:
- Few locations had the ability to charge for parking and although Reebok was a major sponsor, there were still a lot of costs that could be defrayed by charging admission.
- Jorgensen laughed and called it "California Cold" when referring to the often chilly conditions at the start of race day. Scraping ice off windshields was extremely rare and long-sleeve T's and even hats and gloves could easily compensate. Although it seems rain is a constant threat, only occasionally has it been a factor and again the support staff is so good that there has never been a serious problem. And it is cross country, right?
- While housing was a bit tight at the start, there are now plenty of accommodations within a short drive. And lots of restaurants to carbo load the night before.
- The first few years saw some of the better runners in state meet history tackling the course, so the records they established quickly became targets for even faster runners. Move the course and the records would not be nearly as meaningful.
In fact, the success of having a single site hosting the championship may have eventually led to track and basketball eliminating alternating north and south in favor of a single site.
"It turns out Woodward Park was just the right course," said Brewer.
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Woodward Park and its 5,000-meter course has played host to all 32 CIF-State Cross Country Championship meets beginning with the first in 1987. Here's a look at State Meet individual and team time course records by division.
Girls Individual Meet Records
Division I: 16:40 - Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley/SS, 2012)
Division II: 16:43 - Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley/SS, 2013)
Division III: 17:08 - Bethan Knights (Northwood/SS, 2013)
Division IV: 16:30 - Claudia Lane (Malibu/SS, 2017)
Division V: 17:05 - Jordan Hasay (Mission Prep/CS, 2007)
Boys Individual Meet Records
Division III: 14:46 - Austin Tamagno (Brea Olinda/SS, 2015)
Division IV: 14:24 - German Fernandez (Riverbank/SJ, 2007)
Girls Team Time Meet Records
Division I: Great Oak (2015) 89:13
Division II: Saugus (2010) 89:25
Division III: Campolindo (2010) 91:32
Division IV: Sage Creek (2019) 90:59
Division V: Flintridge Prep (2016) 95:19
Boys Team Time Meet Records
Division I: Great Oak (2015) 76:10
Division II: Newbury Park (2019) 75:27
Division III: Brea Olinda (2014) 78:13
Division IV: Foothill Technology (2016) 79:50
Division V: Flintridge Prep (2015) 79:44
Source: 2019 CIF-State Meet program
Photos by Deanna Turner, Pat Rhames, Daniel Tyree, Jeffrey Parenti
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Share your memories of the 1987 State Meet
Were you an athlete, coach, organizer who took part in the first CIF-State Cross Country Championships in 1987? We'd love to share your memories of that meet and that experience. Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.