For sophomore Carlos Lopez and his Longhorn cross country teammates, Friday's Sludge to the Judge run is one of only two opportunities they'll have to showcase their skills in front of hometown fans.
The Payson Invitational, contested Sept. 8 at Payson Golf Course, is the only other cross country event held locally this season.
In addition to the Sludge to the Judge being a chance for the PHS cross country crew, the run also is a big part of the homecoming activities that have kept the school campus abuzz the past week.
Each day of the week has been a costume theme day. Among the most popular themes was "Toga Day" on Tuesday when students dressed in Roman and Greek-style attire.
The school spirit shown the past few days has Carlan Pontious, a transfer student from Wisconsin who is rounding into Payson's best runner, primed and ready for the homecoming run.
"It will be my first one and I'm excited about it," he said.
Junior Samantha Elliot also has never competed in a Sludge to the Judge.
"I went out for the team for the first time this year," she said. "This is our big race."
Today's competition begins at 1:15 p.m. at Green Valley Park and heads down Main Street with the running of the Sawmill Mile. Hosted by Rim Country Middle School, fledgling runners from Blue Ridge, Canyon Day, Holbrook and RCMS will pit their skills and conditioning against one another.
The Sludge run is slated to begin about 1:40 p.m. at the Northern Gila County Sanitary District plant. The nearly three-mile mostly uphill course travels along Country Club Drive and east on Main Street before wrapping up in front of the Gila County Offices on Main and Beeline.
There, Justice of the Peace Ronnie O. McDaniel will be on hand to greet the runners and award plaques to the winners.
The start of the event, the sanitary plant, and the finish line, near McDaniel's office, earned the run its name -- Sludge to the Judge.
Slated to participate along with the Longhorns are Notre Dame, Blue Ridge, Mingus and Tucson Mountain View.
The race scoring is unique in that a combined boys-and-girls score is kept and an overall champion crowned.
Coach Chuck Hardt anticipates the race will draw the largest field of runners in its history -- more than 100 entrants.
He's asking that residents cooperate and try to stay away from Main Street during the competition.
"We need people's cooperation so this goes smoothly," he said.
At Four Corners face off
The Payson runners tuned up for today's homecoming competition at the Four Corners Invitational Sept. 18 at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff.
There, the Lady Longhorns posted 260 points to finish 10th in a field of 20 teams. With 51 points, Flagstaff claimed the championship over runner-up Hopi (64).
In the boys competition, the Horns ran to sixth place --mong 24 teams --ith 227 points. Flagstaff easily won the event with a meet low 61 points.
The PHS jayvee boys finished sixth among 11 teams. The Lady Horns did not field a junior varsity team.
For the boys varsity, Pontious turned in the fastest time posting a 16:57 which was good enough for an 11th-place finish among 159 runners.
The meet champion, Victor Zazueta of Desert View, was clocked in 16:01.
Other Payson runners included Lopez (29th; 17:32), David Cluff (44th; 17:58), Lance Chabot (45th; 17:59), Erik Monty (105th; 19:43), Josh Lymer (113th; 19:57) and Bryson Addington (116th; 20:01).
For the Lady Horns, Alesha Huddlestun led the Payson parade running to 27th place in 22:15. Sinagua's Samantha Hatch covered the course in 19:23 to take first.
Other Lady Horn runners were Samantha Elliott (43rd; 23:03), Lana Cluff (61st; 23:42), Sarah Agnes (73rd; 24:13), Shanna Coleman (78th; 24:25), Crystal Sprinkle (123rd; 28:29). A total of 131 individuals entered the event
Representing the PHS junior varsity boys team were Martin Dorris (18th; 19:48), Jonny Malloy (22nd; 19:57), Eric Lammers (39th; 20:32), Kyle Pugel (66th; 21:41), Steve Gilson (68th; 21:55) and Dillon Hedgepath (112th; 24:07).
In the junior varsity run won by Myron Rintala of St. Michael (16:59), 134 teens participated.