Teenagers with a love for running will take over Philomath on Saturday. In fact, it might just be the largest-ever school-related sporting event to be staged in town and if not, it’s certainly near the top. The 35th Paul Mariman Invitational will feature athletes from 31 high schools, 18 middle schools and five club teams — in all, 921 individual runners.
Throw in all of the coaches, volunteers, parents and other spectators cheering on the kids and Philomath’s population for a day could swell from 5,300 into the vicinity of 7,000.
Joe Fulton, longtime PHS cross-country coach, organized the event and was asked why he thought the meet is so big this year.
“I can’t say — maybe there are fewer meets being offered because of the pandemic,” Fulton said. “Ours used to be a pretty big meet where we’d get 25 teams and then it dropped back to 13 to 15. And now all of a sudden, it’s up to over 30.”
The meet begins at 11 a.m. with the middle school girls race followed at 11:30 with the middle school boys. Philomath Middle School, which usually doesn’t participate in weekend meets, will be running. In an effort to avoid overwhelming congestion, Fulton pushed back the start times from what was originally planned to allow the middle schoolers to leave the school grounds before the varsity teams come in.
“We needed a bigger break between the middle school and the high school races,” Fulton said.
The action resumes at 1:30 p.m. with the junior varsity girls race and then 2 p.m. with the JV boys. The varsity races are slated for start times of 2:30 p.m. for the girls and 3 p.m. for the boys.
Fulton has been trying to attract as many volunteers as possible for Saturday’s meet. For anyone who wants to help out, he can be reached via email at [email protected]. Or, Fulton said folks can just show up for the meet and look for assistant coach Diana Bushnell, who will be in charge of the volunteers.
For more than two decades, the Paul Mariman Invitational has operated as a meet for smaller schools. Fulton allows no schools larger than 4A to compete.
“I want it to be a showcase for the smaller schools … I don’t like the big 6A schools coming in and beating up on all of these small schools,” he said. “Some of these 6A schools have 150 kids out for cross-country and we go to meets with them and it’s just nice to have our kids get a chance to compete against people that they know they’re going to be competing against at state.
“That’s why we get so many schools to sign up because they like coming to our meet where they have a chance to win something,” he added.
The meet is named in memory of Paul Mariman, the longtime PHS coach who died unexpectedly at age 61 in 1997. Fulton said it means a lot to him to keep Mariman’s name alive through the meet.
“Paul and I were really close friends. I’m just happy to be able to carry on the tradition that he established at Philomath way back when he started,” Fulton said. “I think it was ’78, ’79 when the program really started getting good under his tutelage. I came in and started helping him out in the early ’80s and we’ve kept it going. He’d be happy.”
The cross-country course appears to be in pretty good shape, Fulton said, a question that comes to mind following a sewer line installation project that impacted the route.
Siuslaw leads the boys’ field
As for the competition, Philomath High’s boys and girls teams have both been among the best in Class 4A this season but there will be some stiff competition arriving on Saturday. On the boys’ side, Siuslaw is the No. 1-ranked team.
“They’re pretty much unbeatable in 4A,” Fulton said. “We’ve tried and haven’t come close. They’re very deep, they’re the defending state champs.”
Marist Catholic, Cottage Grove, Sisters, Marshfield, Newport and Tillamook are among the other top 4A teams slated to run.
“Bandon, they’re the top 2A team in the state and they can beat a lot of big schools — they’re very deep,” Fulton said. “Cottage Grove has been improving rapidly and they’ll finally have all of their varsity guys running at the same time. They could surprise.”
Individually, the boys’ field could potentially feature four of the top five runners in the state this season — at least based on times seen at earlier meets. Among those is Philomath junior Brody Bushnell, who has been at less than 100% while working through a recent illness. Another junior, Mateo Candanoza, has also been recuperating.
“They seem to be feeling better now so hopefully they’ll be at full strength on Saturday,” Fulton said.
Senior Mark Grimmer, a new but important addition to the team, missed last weekend’s meet. Fulton believes he’ll be in the varsity lineup on Saturday.
“We need him … we’re very thin on the boys’ side,” Fulton said. “We have five legitimate varsity runners and then four pretty good JV runners fighting it out for the next two spots, but they’re a good two minutes behind my top 5.”
Juniors Ben Hernandez and Jesse Erickson round out the top five for the PHS boys.
Marist girls look tough to beat
For the girls, No. 1 Marist Catholic will be the team to beat. Philomath and Siuslaw should also be in contention but the Warriors will likely be competing without their top two runners — freshman Adele Beckstead and junior Ingrid Hellesto.
Sisters, Tillamook and Newport are among the other top girls’ teams competing.
With Philomath’s top two runners out this weekend, Fulton will bring up two from the junior varsity. One of those will be freshman Kyah Weeber, who won last week’s JV race at the Lake Woahink Invitational with a time of 23:06.
“I’ve been trying to give a lot of these top JV girls at least one chance to run varsity to see if there’s some breakthrough and she won the race,” Fulton said about Weeber.
This will be the first Paul Mariman Invitational since 2019 — the meet didn’t happen during last spring’s abbreviated season. Philomath’s boys won and the girls were third at that meet two years ago.
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