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Westover Invitational still among state’s best

Harley Calhoun

Harley Calhoun

ALBANY — The longer Harley Calhoun talks about Saturday’s 32nd annual Westover Invitational cross country meet, his eyes brighten and his words come out a little faster.

The Westover coach is passionate about the meet, an event he has coordinated since 2001 but has been a part of since 1998. The reason for Calhoun’s excitement is that for high school distance runners, Saturday’s meet is one of the largest in South Georgia and ranks among the state’s best.

More than 30 teams, most of them from Southwest Georgia, will take part in the invitational, which begins at 8:30 Saturday morning at Robert Cross Middle School.

“When it was organized in 1982 (by former Westover cross country coach) Ron Clanton, it started out small,” Calhoun said. “It did get up to about 72 teams back in the late 1990s when the GHSA let you qualify for the state meet based on times.

“A lot of teams from all across the state came to Albany because it was a flat course and because they could qualify for state.”

The GHSA changed the rules in 2002 where times were eliminated and the only way to qualify for the state meet in Carrollton was to finish in the top four at region meets.

The quantity of teams decreased from 72 to the mid-30s. However, that still hasn’t stopped the meet from ranking among the state’s best. Schools from South Georgia, Middle Georgia and some metro Atanta schools such as Lovett, Pace Academy, East Paulding, Cherokee and North Gwinnett will compete.

“Of those, about 15 schools or so are going to be spending the night in Albany,” Calhoun said.

The meet used to be held at Darton. However, construction on the gymnasium and tennis courts in 2002 forced the runners to move elsewhere. That’s when Dougherty County Athletic Director Johnny Seabrooks and Calhoun designed the current course at Robert Cross Middle, which all Dougherty County cross country teams use.

Calhoun said unlike some teams that have to run cross country courses in neighborhoods, parks and on sidewalks, the current course sends runners through adjoining pecan orchards.

“It’s real pretty in the mornings,” he said. “The teams keep coming back. It’s at least five degrees cooler in the morning.”

The girls begin at 8:30 a.m., with the boys runners to follow.