Despite some doubts, the Festival of Champions meet held every year at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast will continue next year and beyond.
The race’s future was briefly in doubt as the current organizers — Brewer cross country coach Glendon Rand, as well as Belfast cross country coaches Jo-Ann Nealey and Henri Bouchard — are retiring at the end of the school year, but all three have decided to return next year to help put the races together.
Belfast Athletic Director Matt Battani said the Festival of Champions might even add an “open division” next year consisting of adult runners from Maine.
The Festival of Champions is the state’s largest high school cross country race, attracting more than 1,400 runners this year from Maine and beyond. The 3.1-mile Belfast course is also the location for some regional meets, state meets and the 2023 New England championship meet.
“The festival is continuing with its current organization, and we are spending the offseason identifying the most appropriate date for the festival next year, given that we are hosting the other big meets as well,” Battani said.
He added that the date will likely be similar to this year and that they are looking to expand from six races to seven or eight races with the open division races.
Rand will return to help organize the race but said new people will be added and roles need to still be ironed out.
“It’s been a cooperative venture between Belfast High School and Brewer High School,” Rand said. “They get the course ready and I do everything else in terms of entries and registrations and awards. With me not being at Brewer next year and them still living in Belfast but not coaching, we initially decided in the summer that we were going to take a step back from directing the meet and gave it to Matt.”
He said that he, Nealey and Bouchard then had a change of heart.
“[We] are willing to continue to be involved in the meet. We haven’t had discussions beyond that. [Matt] knows we are interested in being involved in the meet so what needs to be figured out is what roles would be. All the financials also ran through Brewer so now they need to be run through Belfast’s school district,” Rand said.
Rand said that around 80 teams competed this fall at the Festival of Champions meet, but the 1,400 athletes are down from the height of 1,600 that the race reached in the past.
Still, this year’s race went well.
“The energy was great,” Rand said. “Ruth White of Orono ran a course record on the girls side, the boys race was exciting.”
Next year will be an even greater organizing task for the group as more out of state teams will want to race at Festival of Champions to prepare for the New England championship.
“Five years ago when this happened, we got a lot of Connecticut schools and New Hampshire schools,” Rand said. “I would expect an even greater out of state contingent.”