By virtue of solid wins over arch rival Falcon Hills Friday afternoon, the Sludge to the Judge homecoming race traveling trophy will adorn the halls of Payson High School for another year.
The girls cross country team easily slipped past the visiting Falcons on the Main Street run by a 18-45 margin. The feat was a tad tougher for the boys team, which emerged victorious by a 22-34 measure.
The victory was the first in three meetings between the two teams this season.
Each year, the Sludge to the Judge run heats up the homecoming festivities minutes prior to the onset of the traditional parade. The lengthy jaunt begins at the Northern Gila County Sanitary District west of the Payson Golf Course and ends 2.3-miles later at the Main Street and Beeline court of Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel. The longtime JP serves as a finish judge and also donates individual trophies for race winners.
It's not unusual to see McDaniel enthusiastically cheering each and every runner no matter what school they represent.
As in past years, Main Street was lined with fans eagerly anticipating the running of the race and the parade.
The boys' team
The boys triumph was fueled by the gold-medal efforts of junior Jeremy Lee who toured the course in a blazing 13:04. Last year, Lee finished fifth.
The team effort also received loads of help from a trio of PHS runners who finished second, third and fifth. They included Jerry Baker (13:54), Wes Sprinkle (13:59) and Nolan Blalock (14:14).
Sandwiched between Sprinkle and Blalock was Fountain Hills' best performer Austin Brown who finished fourth in 14:01.
Following the run, coach Chuck Hardt lauded the improvement of Sprinkle. Last year, he was timed in 15:20.
Bettering his old time by more than two minutes was a huge accomplishment, the coach said.
The sixth through tenth spots in the final standings were dominated by Fountain Hills runners, including an eighth-place showing (14:33) by Will Young, the defending state champion in the 400-meter dash.
The Lady Horns
Churning through the latter portions of the race like a runner possessed, sophomore Leigh Ann Haynes copped her first Sludge to the Judge title. She was clocked in 16:23.
At the onset of the race, Haynes trailed eventual third-place finisher Christine Roach of Fountain Hills by several meters, race announcer Pet Greer told the crowd waiting at the finish line.
Minutes later, when Haynes was about half-mile into the course, Greer brought the Payson faithful to their feet announcing that the Payson runner had charged into the lead.
Although the run east on Main Street is an uphill climb, Haynes never wavered as she strode toward the finish.
Her closest competition came from teammate Shalynn McGee, who finished as runner-up in 16:57.
After Roach's third-place showing, the Lady Horns dominated the remainder of the top 10 places.
Lilly Flores was fourth (17:07), Stephanie Ray fifth (17:15), Michelle Closs sixth (17:15.9), Rochelle McGee (seventh; 17:16), Mary Mendoza eighth (17:18), Amy Davis ninth (17:20) and Shaina Vaught tenth (17:44).
Vaught, Hardt said, ran a courageous race in that she battled a severe case of shin splints the entire course, but refused to quit.
The cross country teams return to action Oct. 22 at the Snowflake Invitational.
The coming of the meet conjures up some not-so-fond memories in the minds of the veteran cross country runners. Several years ago, it was conducted during the course of a snow and ice storm that forced the participants to run backwards to avoid the biting-cold temperatures.
One former PHS runner says he remembers his eyebrows accumulating frost and ice crystals during the race.
That frigid experience created a new nick name for the event among PHS athletes and coaches. It's been dubbed the "Ice Bowl."