Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The 2022 NJCAA Cross-Country National Championship Meet is coming to Apalachee Regional Park

"Keep your ears open for a big announcement in the coming days," Tallahassee Community College Athletic Director Rob Chaney told me.

Less than a week later, the news broke. On 29 April 2020 the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) announced the venue of their Division I and II cross-country national championships for 2021 through 2023. The 2022 meet will be at Apalachee Regional Park Championship Cross-Country Course, east of Tallahassee, Florida. According to USTFCCA, competition is scheduled for Saturday morning, 12 November 2022.

The Tallahassee Community College Eagles have already hosted the NJCAA Region 8 Championship Meet at Apalachee Regional Park annually since 2016, the year that the Eagles started fielding a cross-country team. The course has a history of national championship events, starting with the USATF Master’s 5K Cross Country National Championship on 6 November 2016. Since then, ARPXC has seen the AAU National Championships on 3 December 2016, the USATF National Club Cross-Country Championships on 10 December 2016, the USATF Junior Olympic XC National Championship on 9 December 2017, the USATF National Cross-Country Championship on 3 February 2018, and the USATF National Cross-Country Championship on 3 February 2019. Further, Florida State University is scheduled to host the NCAA D1 Cross-Country National Championship on the Apalachee Regional Park course on 20 November 2021.

Division II is new in NJCAA cross country; competition in that category starts in 2020. Division II schools may offer limited athletic scholarships--tuition, books, fees, and no more than $250 in required course supplies. The 2021 Division I and Division II championship meet will be at Pole Green Park in Richmond, Virginia on 13 November 2021. Division I and Division II squads will contest the 2023 championships on the Tom Rutledge Cross-Country Course in Joplin, Missouri on 11 November 2023.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

Kent Mills was Florida State's Marathon Man at Boston in 1960

Monday, 20 April 2020, won’t be a typical Patriots’ Day in Boston, Massachusetts. Because of CoViD-19, the bars won’t be open. The Red Sox won’t be playing in Fenway Park. The Boston Marathon won’t be run, rescheduled for 14 September 2020. And with no Marathon, there will be no one at the starting line in Hopkinton from Tallahassee, Florida.

Kent MillsTallahassee athletes have been racing the Boston Marathon for quite some time. In fact, back on Patriots’ Day 19 April 1960, Florida State University junior Kent Mills made the trip from Tallahassee to Hopkinton for the 64th annual Boston. It was what Tom Derderian, a historian of the event, described as “A perfect day for running. A 15-mile-an-hour tailwind on a clear, brisk 50 °F day.” Taking advantage of the conditions, Mills ran 2:48:59, placing 26th overall.

It was a smaller race then, with only 156 starters. Of those, 83 finished. Among those who dropped out along the way was John J. Kelley, the 1957 Boston champion. The 1960 race was also one of three Olympic Trial Marathons for the United States team. In spite of not finishing, Kelley was placed on the U.S. squad. It was a different time.

For Mills, Boston wasn’t his first marathon, nor his fastest. In fact, Mills was already a national marathon champion, in spite of having only been a runner for less than three years.

Growing up in Pontiac, Michigan, Mills hadn’t run in high school. He took up the sport as a freshman at Florida State University during the 1957-1958 academic year, coached by Mike Long. Mills raced the half-mile that year, running 2:01. Even in the 1950s, that performance wasn’t NCAA All-American material. But Mills’ future was in the longer distances. As a sophomore he set the Florida State school record in the two-mile run, going 9:31.4 during the 1959 track season.

Florida State didn’t have a cross-country team in 1959, so late that fall Mills made his own way into Alabama for the third annual Troy Chamber of Commerce Cross-Country Meet. The meet was hosted by Troy State coach Nick Costes, the 1955 US national champion in the marathon and a member of the 1956 US Olympic Marathon team. If Mills hadn’t been thinking about the marathon already, he was now. And the AAU was hosting the National Junior Marathon Championship in Atlantic City, New Jersey on 2 January 1960.

“The team couldn’t afford to send me,” Mills told the school newspaper, the Flambeau. “The University doesn’t sponsor a cross-country team, and the track team was in no position to pay my way up. I wanted to run so bad I could taste it...I had never run the distance before, but I wanted to try.”

So Mills spent nine days of the winter break hitchhiking north, spending seventeen hours on the road. He made it to Philadelphia at 2:00 AM on 27 December 2020, just eleven hours before the start of the Middle Atlantic Road Runners’ Club Cross-Country Championship. Mills won that 10,000-meter race in 33:51.

After spending nearly a week in Philadelphia, Mills found a ride with another athlete heading to Atlantic City for the Marathon. He trailed during the first half of the out-and-back route. With ten miles to go in the 26.2-mile race, Mills moved up into the lead group. He began to push the pace after that, dropping the rest of the leaders.

“I thought, ‘This can’t be right, I can’t be winning this race,’” Mills told the Flambeau.

Nevertheless, Mills won the race by over half a mile, taking the national title with a 2:30:35. At the end of the year, it would stand as the eighth-fastest marathon by an American during 1960, an Olympic year.

The day after the race, Mills started hitchhiking back to Tallahassee.

Unlike the Junior National Marathon, Boston was in the middle of track season and in the middle of Florida State’s spring session. Mills still made it to Massachusetts for the race, but his 2:48:59 was well off what he had run in his first marathon. Several of the athletes he had beaten in Atlantic City were among the 25 runners ahead of him at Boston. Six days later, Mills was back in Florida, racing at Gainesville in the FSU-UF dual meet. He took third in the mile and second in the two-mile for the Seminoles. Florida State won that day, and the team went undefeated during the 1960 season.

Mills spent another year competing for Florida State before graduating in 1961. He did not log any more marathon victories as a Seminole. But if you’re ever in Hopkinton on the starting line of the Boston Marathon, remember that Kent Mills was there before you.