The Longhorn boys varsity cross country team will not compete in today's 10th Annual Sludge to the Judge homecoming road race.
The team's absence is due to an invitation it received to participate in the prestigious Doug Conley Invitational tomorrow (Saturday) at Kiwanis Park in Tempe.
The invitation was the first the Longhorn boys received in the 10-year history of the program.
Because the chance to participate in the most competitive cross country race of the prep campaign was a first for the boys, coach Chuck Hardt decided to accept and opt the varsity out of the Sludge.
The Lady Longhorns earned invitations in 2000 and 2001 when the team featured standout runners Whitney Hardt and Leighann Haynes.
The Conley meet annually invites only the top 20 teams in the state regardless of school size classification.
In the most recent arizonatrack.com rankings, the Longhorns held down the 20th position.
Just ahead of Payson in the standings are Tucson Amphitheater (19th), Buena (18th) and Tucson Sahuaro (17th).
PHS coach Chuck Hardt is hoping his charges can out-run some of those teams."There are a couple of them in the rankings we think we can get past," he said.
Among the favorites to claim the Conley title will be top-ranked Catalina Foothills and second-ranked Tempe Desert Vista.
Class 4A Grand Canyon region member Page is rated third in the arizonatrack.com standings.
The varsity team members who could represent the Longhorns in Tempe include Tanner Morgan, Brian Langeliers, Dustin Rodgers, Carlos Lopez, David Cluff and Lance Chabot.
Without the varsity team, Payson will be represented in the Sludge to the Judge by mostly junior varsity runners in the coed race.
In the Sludge, the top five boy runners' scores are added to that of the top five girls. The combined scores are used to crown a school champion.
Since the Lady Longhorns did not earn an invitation to Conley, the team will be represented by its varsity, which could include Lauren Stewart, Alesha Huddlestun, Yanni Krehbiel, Sarah Agnes and Molly Agnes.
Slated to participate in today's road run are teams representing Holbrook, Round Valley, Marana Mt. View, Coronado, Pinnacle and San Carlos.
Fountain Hills, a longtime participant in the run, chose not to compete this year.
The competition, which is held in conjunction with Payson High School's homecoming festivities, will begin at 1 p.m. with the Sawmill Mile middle school/junior high run. The girls race begins at 1 p.m. and the boys run will begin immediately after.
Rim Country Middle School will enter both a boys and girls team.
The high school run begins at 1:25 p.m and the boys event follows.
The 2.5-mile race course begins at the Gila County Sanitary District plant and continues mostly uphill along Country Club Drive and Main Street. The finish line is near county offices of Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel. The start and finish lines prompted Chuck Hardt to name the run "Sludge to the Judge."
The boys course record of 12:45 was set in 1997 by Brian Benham of Cactus Shadows. Whitney Hardt set the girls record of 15:05 when she was a freshman at Payson High.
Whitney, now a senior at Round Valley High School, is expected to be on hand today to run the last Sludge to the Judge race of her prep career.
Immediately after the race, the homecoming parade will proceed down Main Street.