Metroparks of the Toledo Area scale back prep cross country meets

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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The Clay Eagle Invitational - a multi-decade cross country event - now has a new home in Oregon.

This late season prep cross country meet is a fixture on the schedule at Pearson Metropark for many schools in Northwest Ohio and even Southeast Michigan.

The Eagle Invitational course provides a preview for the district course the Ohio high schools will compete on typically three weeks after the Invitational.

"It's a pride factor," Clay athletic director Mark Beach said about the Eagle Invitational. "It's like bringing people over to your home and showing people your home and what's so special about it."

The OHSAA Division I District Race did not take place at Pearson Metropark in the Fall of 2016 as it moved to the Owens Community College campus in Findlay.

In three of the last six seasons, Clay High School was also the host school for the Three Rivers Athletic Conference Cross Country Championship at Pearson Metropark. That's three events in the span of four weeks.

Clay gave up hosting the district meet this past fall because it became too much to operate three meets over four weeks.

Nearly 1,300 participants run in a number of middle or high school races in the Saturday Eagle Invitational.

Last fall, the Metroparks contacted Clay High School and said the school needed to make a change with the meet as the Metroparks said they event was "overwhelming" Pearson Metropark.

The Metroparks asked Clay High School to cut the participants in the Eagle Invitational from its current number to 500.

Metroparks spokesperson Scott Carpenter says 500 participants has always been its rule, they just never enforced its own policy.

"For years and years, we've overlooked that and tried to continue these," Carpenter said. "It's just gotten to be a little unwieldy for our staff."

This change does not affect the Glass City Marathon course as it runs through Wildwood Metropark. The "500 participants" rule covers all non-profit organizations.

The Metroparks list running as one of the "Outdoor Adventures" on its website for visitors to participate in at the parks. Carpenter says in conjunction with the Toledo Roadrunners, the Metroparks sponsor their own nighttime runs and many schools still hold cross country practice in the fall at the Metroparks or practice for the track distance runners in the spring.

At one time, Clay High School paid $300 to the Metroparks as a special use fee for its event. In recent years, the Metroparks did not charge for the Eagle Invitational.

"We're not making any money what-so-ever on that event," Beach said. "The Eagle Invite has run at a deficit since I've been here for the last four years."

A higher fee of $500 was one of many compromises discussed when both sides met.

"Which is an appropriate (amount)," Beach said. "With that, it just isn't financially viable. You'll price yourself out of the market effectively. You'll require teams to pay $400 for an entry fee and that just isn't viable."

This is in addition to the number of participants, the possibility of busing fans in from an off-site parking lot and even more portable restrooms in addition to the number already brought in to the park for the event

"Every year, people leave upset because they don't have parking," Metroparks spokesperson Scott Carpenter said. "They have to walk a long distance, the restrooms are overwhelmed. All of which is nobody's fault, it's just a symptom of the facts that there are too many people in the parks."

Under Ohio Revised Code, Metropolitan park districts are regional government agencies.

"I am a taxpayer of Lucas County, I am an Oregon (Ohio) resident and it is frustrating to see the Metroparks going in the direction they're going," Beach said. "I understand it, I'm not sure that I agree with it."

Across Lucas County at Secor Metropark, the Northern Lakes League's cross country championship is also in need of a new home as the Metroparks informed the NLL that after three seasons it can no longer run its meet at the park.

Northview High School was the host of this meet for the past three seasons. The school filled out the Metroparks permit to hold the meet and was not required to pay a fee.

Browne says the NLL members would be willing to pay a fee to the Metroparks because this is consistent with other league championship events held off school property such as bowling or the NLL tennis tournament at BGSU.

"We never heard any complaints from the Metroparks system prior to this and then all of sudden we're being told we can't hold the event there," Northern Lakes League commissioner Richard Browne said. "It was a shock to us. It was a surprise."

Carpenter says the original intent of the grass field inside Secor Metropark where most of the NLL championship takes place is for a natural grass area. Metropark workers cut the grass each fall to host the start and finish lines plus parking for vehicles.

"It's not about the events, we love the events," Carpenter said. "It's about the scale of these two events out of the many that we do."

Northview High School athletic director Chris Irwin tells 13abc that land near Timberstone Junior High School is a possible new site for the league meet. The Metroparks may even help Sylvania City Schools prep the property so it can host a cross country event.

Back in Oregon, Beach says the Eagle Invitational will go on this fall - in a new location about a block down and across the street from Clay High School at the City of Oregon William P. Coontz Complex. This is primarily an athletic field complex which features several baseball and softball diamonds with limited trees.

Vehicles can park at the Coontz Complex and Beach will use Clay High School for overflow parking.

"When we sat down the second time, we had some really good, honest discussion and we learned some things that we weren't aware of," Beach said. "I'd like to think that we could remedy those things. None of them were of any significance or anything that couldn't be fixed."

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