Ryun Cross Country Meet Moves to Holloway Park in Lakeland, 50 Teams Will Compete
Thu. September 13, 2012 at 9:09 p.m. | By Solange Reyner
Paul White stands in a spectator area that over looks the Holloway Park cross country course, Wednesday, September 12, 2012 in Lakeland, Florida. The course will be used during this weekend's Jim Ryun Invitational. (Photo by The Ledger/ Rick Runion )
By SOLANGE REYNER
LAKELAND | Jim Ryun, the first high school athlete to run a mile in under four minutes, flew into town Wednesday prior to his appearance at the Jim Ryun Invitational.
It will be his fourth consecutive appearance at the event, one of the elite regular-season cross country meets of the high school season that takes place Saturday starting at 8 a.m.
Ryun starts the race off for the boys and girls but his attendance is likely the lone mainstay from last year's event.
To say the invitational has been tweaked is a misnomer. There's been a major face lift.
Fifty teams will compete at this year's invitational, up from 16 last year, and runners will trek through actual trails at Holloway Park in Lakeland. The course is replete with oak trees lined with meshes of green moss, a little bit of mud, and plenty of great visuals.
"It's hilly and challenging with lots of turns," meet director Paul White said. "So I expect the times to be fairly high, but this course has the potential to be world class if we keep working on it."
White approached Ed Holloway, the owner of the 300-acre property, sometime in May to convince him to hold meets there. Holloway, a Lakeland businessman and developer who also owns Sanlan RV Park and the Brambleridge Golf Course, got on board quickly.
"We think it has great potential," Holloway, 81, said. "Eventually we want to open the trails up to the public and have this space be a place where people can get out and get away."
The Lakeland Christian Invitational on Oct. 12th and two district meets on Nov. 1 will also be hosted at the site, along with the FLYRA Middle School State Championships on Nov. 3.
Holloway purchased the land in the late 1960s and wants to open it to the public around Thanksgiving. Most of the property, which was originally phosphate processed land, is still uninhabited, but preparation for the first cross country meet brought some trucks and bulldozers on site to get the course excavated. It was still being worked on late Wednesday in preparation for the meet and could be a bit muddy if the rain continues through the next day or so.
"But rain or shine, we will have this race," Holloway said.
The meet is a soft opening, but still includes some high-profile cross country programs, including Trinity Prep, Olympia, Wiregrass Ranch and Holy Trinity. Twelve local Polk County teams will compete, and Mallory White, a senior and last year's girls champion, returns to race for Lakeland Christian.
White, Paul's daughter, has already run the course a couple of times to test it.
"A lot of times the high school courses have courses that are half concrete so this is a big change, but I love trails and I run them as much as I can," She said. "It makes the race more fun."
Paul White said the course will also be spectator friendly, and fans can cheer on runners at the start, the mile mark and at the wide open finish. There's also a shaded ridge area around the mile mark and beyond, and on the final stretch to the finish, where spectators can watch.
The high school girls start their race at 8 a.m. and the boys are at 8:30. Tonight there is a collegiate race and the women, who will run a 5K, start at 6:05. The men, who compete in the 8K, race at 6:40. At 5:15, the basic qualifier for the girls middle school championships takes place. The boys race at 5:45.
The main entrance to the park is at the corner of Lakeland Highlands and Glendale and parking is $5.
For additional information on the Jim Ryun Invitational, go to http://www.runlakeland.com.>
[Solange Reyner can be reached at 863-802-7526 or firstname.lastname@example.org]