The Carson City Striders have traveled far since coach Penny Sparks started out with eight runners in 1995.
Since then, they have competed at national championship meets in such locations as Louisiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Chicago and Portland. Also, Sparks is now working with a group that numbers 32 runners (all 8 to 18 years of age), seven of whom earned All-America recognition last year.
Unlike most of their meets, however, the Striders will enjoy the distinction of competing on home ground Sunday in their season-opening Cross Country Cup 2000 at Silver Oak Golf Course.
This isn't merely a race for kids, though. Runners of all ages are invited to participate in a cross country event that offers 5- and 10-kilometer distances for runners and a two-mile walk, all starting at 8 a.m. from Silver Oak's 18th fairway. Proceeds from the third annual Cross Country Cup go to benefit the Striders.
"One thing about our race, it's cross country," event director Dennis Brinson said. "A lot of people don't really know what cross country is, but it is different than running on the road. For one thing, it's nice because you don't have to worry about cars and there's no pavement to beat up your legs."
The course won't beat you up, but it is a challenge. The 5-K loop is roughly 98 percent dirt trails and grass, starting from the golf course and winding past Eagle Valley Childrens Home. The route goes up "Five Minute Hill to the old "V&T Railroad" grade, then returns back to the golf course. Entrants in the 10-K will run the loop twice.
The event will have something to offer for everyone from the competitive runners to those who are simply looking for a good workout.
"This is a good preseason workout for the kids," Sparks said. "We'd like to see this eventually develop into a big preseason race for all the high school and middle school kids."
It will be the first race for the Striders in a season that will culminate with qualifiers and championship races in November and December. The Junior Olympic national championships will be run in Reno the second weekend of December. The high school aged runners will also compete at the prestigious Foot Locker Western Region meet on Dec. 2 at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. (the Foot Locker nationals are Dec. 9 in Orlando, Fla.).
The Striders feature Shanna Sparks, one of Nevada's leading distance runners. She was the 4A state 1,600-meter champion and state cross country runner-up as a freshman at Carson High School in 1999-2000.
The Striders finished up last December with a strong showing at the national finals in Spartanburg, S.C. Among the highlights, Micah Laack finished 16th in the boys 9-10 year old age group, Shanna Sparks was 18th in the girls 15-16 race, Brett Ferrier (from Winnemucca) was 19th in the boys 17-18 race, Daryl Nourse was 23rd in the boys 15-16 race, Annie Brinson was 25th in the girls race, Spencer Van Dyke 20th in the boys 9-10 race and Justin Grant 20th in the boys 12-13 race.
"We only lost one kid, so we should do even better this year," Penny Sparks said. "These are all good kids who work hard."
The team, which began formal training in July and recently spent one week at a running camp at Twin Lakes, Calif., works out Monday through Friday, starting at 8 a.m. from Bethlehem Lutheran School.
Notes ... Registration for the Cross Country Cup will be taken from 7 to 7:45 a.m. on race day. The race day entry fee will be $22. The top three finishers in each 5- and 10-K run division will receive awards. All entrants will receive turtle neck shirts and will also have a choice of various muffins, bagels, fruit and drinks. For more information, call Dennis or Jane Brinson at 883-8477.