Woodland Lake Park in Pinetop was the setting for the Shane C. Morris Invitational (formerly Blue Ridge Invitational).
Wanting to know more about the renaming of the Blue Ridge Invitational, I asked Blue Ridge coach Eric Fogle about who Shane C. Morris was? When meets are named after an individual it is important to recognized the person and who they were. I had no idea until Friday that Shane C. Morris was so young. I asked Coach Fogle to send me some information so I could include it in my article. What Coach Fogle wrote was so much better than anything I could have written. I was so moved by his words I decided to add them exactly as he wrote them.
Coach Fogle's own words:
"Shane Morris initially joined cross country his sophomore year in hopes of getting in shape for the upcoming basketball season. However, his success at both the region and state level that year helped him realize his potential as a runner. He quickly developed a passion for running and during his next season told me that cross country had become his primary sport. During his senior year, he played an instrumental role in helping his team win a second consecutive region title be merely a point over a team they had not beat all season long. I believe that Shane and teammate Matt Rowell laid the foundation for our team by demonstrating that success is merely a result of hard work, dedication, and perserverance.
Shane graduated from Blue Ridge in 2006 with plans to study culinary arts in Scottsdale. However, that summer he was involved in a fatal ATV accident. From what I understand, he was going up a steep incline and the ATV flipped back and landed on him. It was a very tragic event that to this days still brings tears to my eyes. Wow...didn't realize this was going to bring back so many emotions.
That Fall I decided to name our invitational after him. Doing so was my way of honoring the life he lived and the wonderful character traits he possessed. I use the meet as an opportunity to share his life with my team and to emphasize those same traits that I strive to instill in all my athletes. Last year his mother told me about a letter she received from an individual she had never met about how Shane inspired him to achieve great things in his own life. Not surprising if you had known Shane. His quiet disposition was a reflection of his intense focus and concentration. Never once did he complain about a race or workout being too demanding and faced adversity with confidence. Although he was soft spoken, he had a great sense of humor and enjoyed life to the fullest. Shane had great pride in himself, his family, his team, and his school. He had utmost respect for his coaches and teammates. He was and will always be an everlasting part of our team and school"
At the start of each race Coach Fogle speaks to the athletes about Shane Morris's family being present at the race. He tells them about Shane's sister and her family purchasing water, gatorade and fruit to hand out to the athletes as they exit the chute. He tells them about how Shane's parents and relatives come to the meet each year to sell indian tacos and drinks, donating the proceeds to the Blue Ridge team.
"Each year I look forward to seeing his family at the meet. They are wonderful people to be around and help remind me of why Shane was so special to me and our team."
Coach Eric Fogle
The Shane C. Morris Invitational
The Woodland Lake Park course is a true cross country course with hills, trails, a lake and even a bridge. The 7000 ft elevation and the final 200 meter uphill finish makes it a challenging course.
Blue Ridge junior Allison Rydberg took the lead early in the Girls Varsity race and was about 100 meters ahead of 2nd place runner Liz Gashytewa from Zuni High School (NM) at the half way mark. Rydberg looked tired but encouragement from her mom at the 2 mile mark and her dad with 1/2 mile to go, helped her get to the finish 27 seconds ahead of Gashytewa. "It (the race) didn't feel very good," said Rydberg, "I guess that's a cross country race for you. I don't know what it means to feel good because it always hurts." she continued with a laugh. Rydberg also joked about never being able to keep up with older sister Jessica who is now running at Notre Dame. "She was way faster. I could maybe keep up with her on a bike!"
Allison finished the race in 20:45.92. Her sister Jessica finished the Shane C. Morris invitational her junior year in 20:46.60 less than a second faster.
Rydberg's next race will be the Queen Creek Twilight Meet
On the boys side Sedona Red Rock senior Jesus Rivera jumped out to a quick start and was in the lead before hitting the 800 mark, remaining in the lead throughout the entire race. "The race felt great, it really feels amazing to win a race and the whole team was great." said Rivera after the race. The elevation did not effect Rivera as he looked as though he was cruising the entire race. Rivera won the race in 16:39.31, six seconds faster than his win last year at the same event and 28 seconds faster than second place finisher Brannon Wallace (17:07.31) from Zuni High School, New Mexico.
Rivera's next race will be the Mingus Invitational
The Zuni (NM) boys and girls dominated the open races. The top 4 spots in the boys race were Zuni runners with Chevy Coonsis (pictured right) winning the event in 20:01.26.
Rachel Lillie (pictured left) from Sedona Red Rock won the girls open race in 24:05.22. The next 5 spots went to Zuni runners.
Junior High Races
The girls junior high school 2 mile race was won by Zuni 8th grader Joely Joe (pictured right) in 13:33.11 beating out Blue Ridge Jr. High runner Dana Brewer. Joely Joe has been running since the 6th grade and when asked if she had won any other races her teammate Darnelle Neha chimed in with, "Lots of times!" Joely Joe took the lead in the first 200 meters and sailed to the finish comfortably.
Two weeks ago Joely ran in the Window Rock Invitational and was in second place when she and the 1st place runner went the wrong way. Joely ended up taking 10th.
When asked about her race she smiled and said, "It felt great, it was an easy win today."
On the boys side, Zuni 6th grader Kamuela Unkestine (pictured left) won the 2 mile race in 13:09.62 beating 2nd place runner Josh Truax from Blue Ridge. Kamuela has been running since he was 4 or 5 years old, running with a competitive program called "Summer Months" and a non competitive fun running program called "Healthy Lifetyles." Most kids in the Zuni area run in the programs.
The 2 mile race was Kamuela's first school win. "I had confidence in my racing but not sure if I could win," said Kamuela after the race. He took the lead 3 minutes into the race and stayed there. When asked how he felt about his first win he said, "I feel proud."