State meet runs to Norris-Penrose
High schools’ cross-country best to compete on Cheyenne Mountain-planned race course Oct. 27

       In September 2011, Cheyenne Mountain High School organized the first-ever cross-country race using Penrose Stadium for a finish line.

Commercial buildings off South Eighth Street loom in the background at the start of the boys varsity race in the first Cheyenne Stampede cross-country event in September 2011. The 5-kilometer course, which uses trails in El Paso County's Bear Creek East Open Space and finishes inside Penrose Stadium, will be used again when the cross-country state championship races are held there for the first time Oct. 27.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Coming Saturday, Oct. 27, that 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) course, which leads up to the stadium after winding through El Paso County's Bear Creek East Open Space (including barn pass-throughs, creek-crossings and segments through woods and hills), will be used for the high school state championship races.
       Close to 10,000 people, including athletes and spectators, are expected, with the first of the eight races at 9:30 a.m. and the last at 1 p.m. Admission is free. Parking will be available in the Norris-Penrose Event Center lots outside the stadium at 1045 Lower Gold Camp Road ($10 a car) and at its overflow lot off Moreno Avenue ($5).
       “Having the state championship is really great for the Westside,” said Johnny Walker, general manager of Norris-Penrose. “It brings in kids and their parents from all over the state. It's a nice economic multiplier.”
       He credited Cheyenne Mountain High School, led by cross-country coach Stan Lambros, for its “really brilliant job” of pulling the event together. At least 100 volunteers, by Lambros' estimate, will be helping out, thus making the center's job easier.
       This has also been true at the two school-planned “Cheyenne Stampede” races that have used Bear Creek East and Penrose Stadium to date. The second annual Stampede last August was bigger than the 2011 inaugural, attracting 137 schools in all and resulting in a crowd close to what's expected Oct. 27, Lambros said.
       A side effect at the state meet will be traffic impacts, with Walker advising that police will be assigned to direct cars on Lower Gold Camp near the stadium.
       “The rodeo is nothing like this,” Walker said, referencing the four-day Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo that's typically the center's biggest event each year. “This will be a mass of people, the whole day.”
       For the past several years, the state championship has been held in northern Colorado, most recently at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds.

A map shows the 5-kilometer course layout and other aspects of the cross-country state championship to be held at the Norris Penrose Event Center Oct. 27. The finish will be in Penrose Stadium, after the runners have followed the map-indicated trails through Bear Creek East Open Space (shown simply here as "Bear Creek Park").
Courtesy of Stam Lambros and Cheyenne Mountain High

       According to interviews with Lambros and Walker, the relatively new Stampede course rose to favor for a number of reasons, but it all started over a year ago, when the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) announced it was looking for a new site for the state meet. This gave Lambros the idea of putting the event in Colorado Springs. “Primarly I wanted to get the meet closer to our kids,” he said. “ But I wanted do it right if I was going to do it.”
       He found support from his school as well as from Gary Staines, owner of the Runner's Roost downtown, who helped “brainstorm locations” and eventually to choose and lay out the Bear Creek course. The terrain, with its woods and undulating hills, makes for a course where “you have to think and manage your energy,” Lambros said. “And I think the state loved the stadium idea. It's a neat venue to finish in.”
       Located south of Rio Grande and Lower Gold Camp between 21st and 8th streets, Bear Creek East has been used for years for high school races, but Cheyenne Mountain gave itself more options by partnering with Norris-Penrose. Owned by the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Foundation, the facility's 60 acres borders Bear Creek East on all sides except Lower Gold Camp, with no fences between them.
       The center provides not only a stadium where fans don't have to be mountain goats - as at some cross-country courses - to access and watch the finish, but also the use of its large indoor arena. The arena's enclosed space will be transformed into an “athletes' village,” giving the runners shelter from either heat or cold, depending on the day's weather, Lambros said.
       Another feature that schools and state officials like is that school buses can drive right up to the arena through a Norris-Penrose access that will be open only to them - thus avoiding potential snarls with spectator traffic on Lower Gold Camp Road.
       In bidding for the site with CHSAA, Walker noted that “we had to drop our prices” to make the center competitive with government-subsidized facilities in other locales. The center is also helping out financially, by letting Cheyenne Mountain keep all parking proceeds. This will help the school defray its up-front costs in sponsoring the event, Walker pointed out.
       In the end, he said, hosting the state meet “is not a money maker for us. But it's great for us in a lot of respects - the name recognition, helping youth and the community partnership with Cheyenne Mountain High School. It's a perfect fit.“
       El Paso County likes the idea too. “We're delighted to be involved with hosting the State Cross Country meet,” said Tim Wolken, director of the Community Services Department, which oversees county parks. “Bear Creek Regional Park hosts a variety of athletic events and the state cross-country meet will be one of the highlights in 2012.”
       The meet pits about 20 teams in each division (broken out by school enrollment sizes) that have qualified by virtue of results in league and regional races. Also in the races are individual runners from non-qualifying schools whose best times meet the race standard.
       Cheyenne Mountain has a certain motivation, being one of the perennial top cross-country schools in the state, achieving a rare double win in 2010 by taking both the boys and girls 4A titles.
       Another local high school whose teams regularly finish highly at the 4A state meet is the Westside' flagship high school, Coronado.
       The latter appears to have some especially fast runners this year, Lambros said, adding that he and Coronado coach Doug Hugill are good friends. “I tell people that if it can't be us [that wins state], I hope it's them.”
       Here's the race schedule:
       - 9:30 a.m., 2A Girls.
       - 10 a.m., 3A Boys.
       - 10:30 a.m., 4A Boys.
       - 11 a.m., 5A Girls.
       - 11:30 a.m., 2A Boys.
       - Noon, 3A Girls.
       - 12:30 p.m., 4A Girls.
       - 1 p.m., 5A Boys.

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