Tribune Chronicle: Flat or hills? That is the question

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The following article was published in the Oct. 14, 2008 edition of the Tribune Chronicle by John Vargo (jvargo@tribtoday.com).

Boardman has been a great host for the northeast regional cross country meet for nearly two decades.

The ups and downs of the course have more than prepared the runners from northeast Ohio for the state meet at Scioto Downs in Columbus, which is a flat course.

The top two teams from last year's Division II boys Boardman Regional - Woodridge and Walsh Jesuit finished 1-2 in the state. Woodridge is the two-time defending champion.

Incidentally, the Division II state champion has come from the Boardman regional since 2002. Walsh Jesuit won in '02. Ashtabula Edgewood took the state title in 2003. Then, Salem won back-to-back titles in 2004 and '05.

As for Division III, the teams from northeast Ohio have dominated for more than a decade at Scioto Downs.

Maplewood started the Boardman regional dominance with a victory in 1997. The Rockets followed it up with state championships in 2002, 2003 and 2005. The '05 victory featured an individual state champion in Andy Arnio, who now runs for The Ohio State University. Teammate Andy Morgan made a late charge in the final 1/2-mile to finish second. Morgan recently transferred from the University of Akron and is at Ohio State with Arnio.

Arnio was the first Rocket state champion since legendary runner Ted Rupe, who coaches the Maplewood boys, led his team to the first-ever state championship in 1972.

McDonald won back-to-back Class A titles in 1982-83, but came out of the Boardman regional to win the 1999, 2001 and 2004 state championships.

East Canton edged Maplewood to win the state title in 1998 and St. Thomas Aquinas has won the past two state championships.

"I like it because it takes a strong runner and a strong team to do well at Boardman," Rupe said. "After 17 years of times coming in from different regions, people have discounted times from our region.

"We go in as the underdogs. I enjoy being the underdogs. It helps us psychologically and physically."

Some coaches want to discount Boardman's advantage and run on a flat course, similar to the Tiffin Regional at Hedges-Boyer Park - all grass and all flat. It seems they want no hills or or turns.

Truly, it's not cross country.

"I'm a believer cross country should be cross country," Rupe said. "If you want this, go get in a road race."

Really, I looked at the Boardman course myself and there's not much different than what was seen at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds - site of this year's area Division II and III district.

Jim Fox, who has been the Boardman Regional tournament director for many years, will be the director of this year's tournament at GlenOak.

The Boardman course wasn't ready to go by OHSAA standards and worthy of a regional, he said.

"Nobody likes to change sites, but the safety of the student athletes is the primary concern for all of us," Fox said.

He did what was best for the field of runners, not what was best for Boardman.

"The coaches have come to know me well and I would never jeopardize the athletes and let them compete or put them on a surface that would've give them give their the best effort," Fox said. "We don't want to course to determine who goes and who stays."

The flat surface at GlenOak is a precursor for state. There's no doubting the quality of the facilities, but it won't prepare the athletes for state as well as Boardman.


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