Saturday, September 17, 2016
By Greg Gulas
The 31st annual Boardman Spartan Cross Country Invitational gets underway today at 9 a.m. with nearly 7,000 runners ready to compete at the school’s course.
Varsity and middle school boys and girls teams in Divisions I, II and III are set to take part with entries this year hailing from the tri-state area.
Dave Pavlansky, former Boardman High School track and cross country coach, is in his fifth year as meet director.
“Our invitational has grown each and every year since its inception. You have to credit Bruce Breunig for his foresight back in 1985 for wanting a competition of this type for the athletes,” Pavlansky said. “Back then, the meet was designed and used as a prelude to regionals. When former Boardman athletic director Jim Fox took over as director, and we received word from the OHSAA that we would be hosting regionals, that really helped us grow because teams now entering wanted an early look-see at the course and competition.”
Sponsorships by Merrill Lynch, Nike and Second Sole have been key in helping to ensure its success.
“Tony Lariccia and Sid Jones were instrumental in securing Merrill Lynch as a corporate sponsor and this is the fourth year that Steve Hixon at Second Sole has brought Nike on board,” he added. “Those sponsors are big reasons as to why teams from across the state and others from the tri-state area choose to take part. They take part because they know this is a quality event.”
Second Sole makes available a commemorative t-shirt (which can be purchased in advance at their Boardman location and on-site the day of the event) while Nike provides a new piece of gear each year for tournament officials, as well as gifts for coaches.
Nike also provides spike bags to the top runners in each race, and spike bags and a cap to the top-7 finishers.
“We’re much more than that 12 team invitational in 1985. Over the years we have come to attract quality teams from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia as well,” Pavlansky stated.
If numbers were the only measure for guaranteeing its success, then the Spartan Invitational is already a success before that first race is even run.
Validating its status as one of the top cross country invitationals at any level, not just in Ohio but nationwide, came in 2013 when Boardman’s Mark Hadley (15:07.8) topped Nick Elswick (15:08.7) for top honors in Division I.
“Not only was that race between Mark Hadley and Nick Elswick one of the best finishes in Ohio that year, but it went on record as one of the fastest top one-two finishes nationwide.”
Maplewood (32 points), behind overall winner Tristan Dahmen (15:57.5), won the Division III boys varsity crown last fall with McDonald (106 points) finishing third behind St. Thomas Aquinas (52 points).
The McDonald (80 points) girls were runners-up to St. Thomas Aquinas in Division III varsity competition.
In Division II, Max Pigza (18:07.2) of West Branch won the boys open division championship as a junior while Solon looks to defend their Division I crown after the Comets’ Danny Cohen (15:47.3) walked off with top honors a year ago as a junior.
Chardon won the Division I girls open division and North Allegheny took the girls open crown.
This year, Maplewood’s boys and McDonald’s girls are expected to contend with the Rockets’ Ethan Sparks and Kenny Wallace of Mathews individuals on whom to keep an eye.
The Poland girls will be a force in Division II while McDonald’s Malina Mitchell is also someone to watch.
In Division I, host Boardman’s boys and girls should do well with the Spartans’ Chris Butler one of the division’s best.
The starter gun goes off at 9 a.m. when the Division III boys get the competition underway, concluding at 3:30 p.m. with the Division I middle school girls (all runners) event.