GALION — It may be Galion’s best-kept secret.
Each year in September, this city’s population basically doubles for a day as cross country runners and fans from around the state invade the south end of the community for the annual Galion Cross Country Festival.
From early morning through late afternoon, approximately 3,000 runners will take to the 5,000-meter rolling course at Amann Reservoir.
Restaurants and parking areas in Galion see a surge in business that day as thousands of fans look for places to eat.
The festival had a humble beginning.
In 1977, George Guins started teaching and coaching in Galion. He’s had the cross country team since 1977 and just recently gave up control of the high school track teams. Guin’s first year in Galion was the first year of what originally was the Galion cross country invitational,but has since been renamed the Galion Cross County Festival.
“Paul Pendleton, Galion’s athletic director at that time, wanted each varsity sport to have some kind of event that would help pay for that sport,” said Ken Jarvis, the meet director for 30 years. “That’s how this got started. George said he believes the first invitational had just four or five teams.”
It’s gotten larger almost every year.
Last year there were 3,706 runners registered, Jarvis said.
Parents, other family, friends and fans account for probably 12,000 more people at the Festival.
“I’d say probably 15,000 people in Galion that day,” Jarvis said. “And I’m sure we’re missing some of them. It’s pretty hard to keep track of everyone coming and going out there.”
As they festival grew, the amount of help it takes to put on this daily event grew, too.
“The city’s been great to work with,” Jarvis said. “If you’d driven out that way on that Saturday you know what an inconvenience it is for the people who live out there on County Line Road, or on Biddle Road. There is an unbelievable amount of traffic.”
There are volunteers from the American Red Cross, medical personnel from Avita Health Systems and parents, cheerleaders, teachers and other coaches have donated their time for years.
“We really could not do this without all of those people,” Jarvis said. “It would be impossible.”
Parking is always an adventure. There is not a lot of room on the Amann side. Amick is filled up with vehicles and a shuttle service transports parents and fans from one reservoir to the other. Also, Ohio 309 is used by pedestrians.
There used to be buses parked along the road at Amann, and later they were parked at Amick.
“Now the buses drop off their runners and then we park them on the high school campus,” Jarvis said. “That parking lot will be full of high school buses.”
Bus drivers can catch a shuttle back to the meet site, or just hang out in the high school.
“There are also plenty of places to eat in that area,” Jarvis said.
Some of the finest runners in American running history have taken part in the Galion Cross Country Festival. If you’re not a fan, you’ll not recognize the names, like world-class runner Scott Fry, who for years had the course record, at 14 minutes and 49 seconds. Fry was a national high school champ and went on to star in college. Fry’s course record was broken last year by Andrew Jordan, then a senior at Watkins Memorial High School. The new record is 14:44.
Coincidentally, Ken Jarvis’ son, John, is Andrew Jordan’s coach at Watkins Memorial. John was also a high schooler and ran in the same race where Fry set his course record.
Bob Kennedy was a two-time Olympian from Westerville North. His name may be most easily recognized.
Claire Durkin, of Worthington Kilbourne High School, has the meet record among the girls,at 17:11.07.
For years, a cast of dozens compiled race results and made them available to coaches and media after each meet. Those results were hand-written or typed into a computer, sometimes in the back of a big truck at the reservoir. Dave Spraw, Penny Jarvis, Alice Fox and others did it for years.
As the event’s stature grew, Delta Timing, actually solicited Jarvis to use their electronic gadgetry to compile race results.
This is the same group that is responsible for scoring at the Big 10 and Big 12 track championships and the Canadian Olympic trials. They hand out computer chips to each runner and track their finish with the chip. They even have camera’s at the finish line in case of arguments or questions from athletes and coaches.
“It’s amazing how fast we used to get those results out by hand,” Jarvis said. “Now you can go to a website and within minutes after the race, you can look up times and results on your phone.”