Jacquelyn Oesterblad leads the pack as a Show Low Cougars runner threatens to outpace her during a recent cross country meet.
During the heyday of the Sludge to the Judge cross-country run, it was one of the highlights of Payson High School’s homecoming festivities.
It annually preceded the parade on Main Street and earned its name because the starting line was near the Northern Gila County Sanitary plant west of the golf course, and the finish line was in front of the Gila County offices where then Justice of the Peace Ronnie McDaniel had his office.
The course is about 2.5 miles rendering it a bit shorter than usual 5K cross-country events, but because the final mile is mostly uphill, the course is considered challenging.
At the early runs, McDaniel was traditionally at the finish line to award trophies and congratulate the overall boy and girl winners.
The meet also attracted some of the finest cross country teams from around the state, and a traveling trophy was awarded to overall champion based on points posted by the combined boys and girls teams.
That scoring system was more than a tad unusual — few meets score in that fashion — but it is what made Sludge to the Judge unique.
The race also drew hundreds of fans and boosters to Main Street who cheered wildly for the runners and then stayed on to watch the homecoming parade.
The excitement was amped up a notch at the finish line where then PHS student Patrick Patrick Walker conducted a type of play-by-play over a loudspeaker while receiving reports and updates from others along the course.
If there was a single memorable race, it occurred in 2005 when then cross country star Carlen Pontious made a crucial error in running on the south side of Main, rather than the north where the finish line was located.
That mistake meant he had to run farther than the other runners and resulted in him finishing a close second to teammate Carlos Lopez.
Pontious made the same strategy mistake two years earlier, but still managed to emerge victorious.
For unknown reasons, the popularity of Sludge to the Judge waned, and last year it was not held.
Then along game energetic coach Jonathan Ball who, along with assistant coach Chuck Yale, was determined to return the run to its former glory and format the competition exactly as it was when former cross country coach Chuck Hardt founded it.
Ball and Yale have accomplished their goal, and the event will be held today as part of the 2010 homecoming celebration.
“We are excited to bring this tradition back,” Ball said. “This will give our athletes a chance to showcase their hard work in front of the entire town.”
The boys run begins at 1:40 p.m. and the girls run at 1:50 p.m.
Set to participate along with Payson this year are Many Farms, Fountain Hills, Holbrook, Millennium and Phoenix North.
In that field, Yale expects the hosts to challenge for the championship.
“I’d like to think we are one of the better teams,” he said. “If we have the pack running like we did last week (at Fountain Hills) we should be okay.”
Among the boys’ team members who could contend for medals are Ezra White, Dawson Beeson, Tanner Hodges and Niyal Curi.
On the Lady Longhorns team, freshman Logen Conway, Ashley Spear, Madi Flake, Sara Cluff and Lauren Nossek could be in the mix for hardware. All finished among the top 12 at the Fountain Hills Invitational.