SURGOINSVILLE — The trails have already been blazed, and on Friday, Phipps Bend’s new 5K cross country course received a few final touches in preparation for Volunteer High School’s Oct. 1 inaugural meet.
Six schools have already signed up to compete Oct. 1 on the new course, which was recently created on a Phipps Bend Industrial Park floodplain that isn’t suitable for construction.
The meet starts near Phipps Bends Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus with the girls high school varsity race at 9 a.m., followed by the boys high school varsity race at 10 a.m.
Around 10:45 a.m., they’ll start the girls middle school race, followed by the boys middle school race around 11:15 a.m.
Three high schools are entered in the meet including Volunteer, Sullivan North and Cornerstone Christian Academy.
Volunteer cross country coach Jim Ailshie admitted that with the course construction and meet being scheduled so late, most schools had already completed their schedules by the time the Oct. 1 meet was confirmed earlier this month.
But there’s still expected to be more than 100 runners on hand, and additional teams can still enter the meet through the middle of next week.
The same goes for middle schools. So far, the three middle schools entered for the meet include Church Hill Middle, Rogersville Middle and Rogersville City.
A much larger turnout is expected on Oct. 20 when Cherokee High School will host an IMAC conference meet at Phipps Bend.
This will be the first home cross country meet in the 36-year history of Volunteer high school. For Ailshie, it’s a bit of a dry run for what he hopes will evolve into one of the biggest annual meets in the region.
“A lot of excitement has been generated in the community, and it’s kind of like an old fashioned barn-raising,” Ailshie told the Times-News on Friday. “It’s the culmination of a lot of work and a lot of support from a lot of people.”
Ailshie has already scheduled the 2017 meet at Phipps Bend between two other large meets in the region — the Bristol Cross Race and the Trailblazer Classic.
He’s anticipating that the Phipps Bend meet will become a high demand event for teams across the mountain regions because it is flat, and he expects it to be fast. That means runners looking to post fast times into the national database will want to run that course.
It might be good for us to start out fairly small and get all the bugs and kinks worked out,” Aishie said. “Hopefully, this event will continue to grow in the future, and I feel confident that it will.”
He added, “We’ve had all kinds of help and a lot of community support surrounding this event. Local businesses have offered support. Old Stage Printing has offered the awards, and they’re going to be one of the sponsors. Lowe’s has provided the flags, Fleet Feet has provided an inflatable tunnel and the music system, and Food City here in Church Hill has offered to sponsor the event.”
About half of the 5K high school course is on a gravel road.
The other half was cut out from an overgrown existing trail, and some of it runs beside the river bank.
The high school course is somewhat shaped like a figure-8 with the “X” crossing located within view of the start/finish line.
The second half of the high school course is actually the entire 1.5 mile middle school course.
Prior to Friday, Paul Byington, who oversees maintenance at Phipps Bend, had already done quite of bit of mowing and prep work for the course.
Sheriff Ronnie Lawson also allowed an inmate work crew to trim and clear brush along the course.
On Friday, Hawkins County Highway Department employees were using a roller packer on the course to pack down areas along the river bottoms and make it as smooth as possible for runners.
District 2 school board member Chris Christian, who has helped shepherd the project since the beginning, said the course will be good this year, despite the quick turnaround on its construction.
“We still have a lot of work to do moving forward, and next year we’ll be in better shape,” Christian said. “The packer is doing a fantastic job. But after this year, our plan is we’ll come in and disc and level and re-seed — and eventually have it almost like running on carpet.”