Gainesville cross country will host first-ever meet Friday, thanks to community effort

Times photo/Jenny Yarger Gainesville Bulldogs cross country runners are pictured on the wooded course near the Gainesville track that will be used at the school’s first-ever cross country meet Friday afternoon. The wooded course was developed by the Ozark County Wellness Committee as a multipurpose trail, available to the public and to the school for its running sports. Pictured, from left: Ryder Murphy, John Botts-Papcke, McCray Hambelton and Zeke Yarger.

photo submitted This group of 10 Gainesville cross country runners recently participated in the July 21 “Bulldog Challenge,” a 13.1-mile course at Caney Mountain Conservation Area north of Gainesville. Pictured, from left: Kaitlyn Kahl, Aaron Kahl, Nick Goodson, Ryder Murphy, John Botts-Papke, Archer Luna, Lyle Pippin, Gary Emrick Sr., Brady Myers, Isaac Pippin, Zeke Yarger and cross country head coach Gary Emrick.

This Friday will mark a moment in history for the Gainesville School District as it hosts its first-ever cross country meet. The Gainesville Bulldog Classic is scheduled to begin at 3:45 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, with teams meeting at the Gainesville track. Organizers are hoping the community will come out to cheer on and support the Bulldogs and other area teams that will be competing. 

The meet will feature races for elementary (fifth and sixth grades) and junior high (seventh and eighth grades) boy and girl divisions, all with an approximately 1.5-mile course. The high school junior varsity and varsity teams will compete in a 5K (3.1 miles) race. Between the junior high and high school races, the Gainesville team will host a recognition of the team’s seniors, Aaron Kahl, Brady Myers, Nick Goodson and Lakyn Suter. 

At presstime, organizers said teams from Gainesville, Bakersfield, Dora, Hartville, Fordland and Conway will compete at the meet. 


The Bulldogs are hungry

This year’s Bulldog cross country team is hungry for success, and they’ve been putting in the work, said GHS cross country coach Gary Emrick. “I want to say a big thank you for all the contributions and support toward the success of this program.“ He added. “We’re excited to see what the team can do now that we have the opportunity to compete  at our own course. 

“The team has been working hard this season and know that greatness is not free and easy. They leave nothing to chance to achieve their goals. I would love to see the community watch the Bulldogs in action at our home meet,” he said.

At the direction of Emrick and assistant coach David Murphy, the runners have been practicing consistently in the off season, running long distances through some of the hottest and most humid summer days the Ozarks has seen in recent years. 

Their training included completing the “Bulldog Challenge,” a half-marathon (13.1 miles) on the steep hills of Caney Mountain Conservation Area in mid-July. Ten runners took on the challenge, and all finished it. Interest is building in the program too, as Gainesville is able to compete with a full boys and a full girls team this season.

The off-season determination and dedicated in-season effort have paid off, and runners have shaved off time from their runs, getting better and better as their training has progressed. 

“I think we have a good chance to go to state this year and possibly placing as a team,” said junior Ryder Murphy, a front runner of the Gainesville team this year and son of assistant coach David Murphy. “Last year we slowly progressed, but this year we are confident we are going to have a least five runners who can run under 20 minutes at districts, possibly three or four runners who can run under 19 minutes.”

That grit and enthusiasm are felt throughout the team as the runners share their excitement and hope about the team’s future. 

“We’re going to make history this season. We’re going to break records. We’re going to be the first Gainesville team to make it to state. I’m hoping that we can propel future generations into greatness,” said senior Bulldog runner Nick Goodson. “I’m proud to be a Bulldog.”

The Bulldogs are confident in their ability and the course. 

“It’s the first meet in our hometown, and we know the course well. We’re going to be able to push in spots that we know we can push in, and I think we’ll be able to get the best times possible this season. We’re also all pushing for state too. We’re all trying to get under 20 [minutes] and beat our records from last year,” said senior runner Brady Myers. 

Many of the runners thank their coaches for believing in them and leading them to fine tune their athletic ability. 

“I feel really blessed to have Coach Emrick, who has been doing a great job working with us one-on-one, helping us improve and motivate us. I’m also thankful for Coach Murphy volunteering and helping us become the best version of ourselves athletically to reach our potential,” sophomore Zeke Yarger shared. 


Building a trail that made it possible

The cross country meet has been made possible thanks to the dedicated work of the non-profit group Ozark County Wellness Committee, a group of locals working toward creating increased access to physical activity and helping with other health-related community goals. 

As part of its efforts a few years ago, the group reworked an old trail that runs beside the Gainesville track that was utilized for a fall festival spook walk many years ago. Ever since the school’s fall festivities transitioned away from the track, the path had not been used by the school or community for much of anything. 

The OCWC cleared the existing former spook walk path, widening it and extending the trail farther into the wooded area to create a loop that, paired with roads on the Gainesville campus and the connected Hoerman Memorial Park driveway, measures 3.1 miles, or a 5K distance. 

“We all think it’s wonderful,” said OCWC committee member Karen Brantingham. “It’s something we had hoped could happen from our very first discussions about developing the trail, that the school could use the trail to host meets in addition to the community using the trail for walking or running. We’re so happy that it has become a reality and the trail can be used in that way. We’re excited it will provide additional opportunities for closer meets for the Gainesville cross country team, as well as other nearby school teams. Providing those opportunities and access for the community is what the Ozark County Wellness Committee is all about.”


ActNow timing sponsored by 

Douglas Hawkins - Shelter Insurance Agency

One element of the meet that the team is very excited about is the ActNow Promotions timing system. Instead of hand-timing the runners, the Bulldog classic will use the high-tech and very accurate ActNow timing system, which uses chips in each racer’s bib that connects with an electronic and automatic timing system, recording precise finishing times for each runner and providing live results in a variety of different ways. 

The $1,300 timing system is being sponsored by Douglas Hawkins - Shelter Insurance Agency of Gainesville. Hawkins said he is excited about the sponsorship and opportunity to invest in the future of the cross country team this year. 

“I was in track in high school, and it was one of my favorite sports. I’ve been watching all the work these kids have been putting in and the incredible effort of Coach Murphy and Coach Emrick in training. I’ve been seeing them running together around town and practicing all the time. I think it’s such a great opportunity that the school can host a meet now,” Hawkins said. “What is going to really set this meet apart is this high-tech timing. A lot of the schools in the area are excited about running with it. The Gainesville team has really been working hard to build up the program and has put so many hours into getting interest built up. I’m happy to be able to sponsor and invest in that effort,” Hawkins said.

“Huge shout out to Doug Hawkins at Shelter Insurance for covering the cost of the timing service. His continued support for the kids in our community is pretty amazing,” assistant coach David Murphy said. 

Murphy said the team is thankful for all of the community support that has come from the OCWC, Shelter Insurance Agency and too many others to count. “Everything from buying the team breakfast after a long run to drivers honking encouragingly at the kids as they pass by,” the Bulldogs have seen an overwhelming amount of support. 


Come out and watch the Bulldogs run

If you’re unable to make the cross country meet this Friday, the Gainesville Bulldogs are competing in the following meets throughout the rest of the year: Sept. 19 at Ava,  Sept. 26 at Mountain Grove, Sept. 29 at School of the Ozarks, Oct. 5 at Conway, and Oct. 17 at Fordland. The Summit Conference cross country meet will be Oct. 23, in Conway. The Class 2 District 2 meet is set for Saturday, Oct 28, in Hollister, where the team or individual runners can qualify for regional and state competitions. 

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