Mill Creek’s Ethan Nordman (403) and Brookwood’s Will Bray (102) among a pack of runners at the Gwinnett County Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Sept. 12 at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers.

A large number of the state’s top cross country runners and teams are headed to this week’s 18th annual Coach Wood Invitational, named in honor of former South Gwinnett and Grayson coach Rick Wood.

The meet, held closer to Gwinnett for most its history, returns to McIntosh Nature Preserve, the two-loop course in Whitesburg that has hosted the event since 2018. The flat, grassy track typically yields fast times, including two boys runners breaking 15 minutes and three girls runners breaking 18 minutes in 2019.

The field is heavy on Gwinnett talent with Archer, Berkmar, Brookwood, Collins Hill, Duluth, Grayson, Greater Atlanta Christian, Hebron Christian, Mill Creek, Norcross, North Gwinnett, Parkview, Peachtree Ridge, Shiloh and Wesleyan all sending runners to the meet. A total of 75 teams and more the 3,000 runners are spread out over divisions Friday and Saturday — a two-day split that features more races and fewer teams in each race as a precaution with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Concessions also have been eliminated from the meet, and all shirt and apparel sales have moved online only at https://coachwoodinvite.itemorder.com/sale to prevent crowds from gathering at the meet. Health of the runners is always of the utmost importance, and it is even more important with region and state meets coming up in the next three weeks.

“Those are just some of the precautions we are taking to help do our part and be responsible (with COVID-19’s presence),” said meet director Andy Christie, the boys head coach at Mill Creek.

Another meet tradition, its annual Hope and Hoppines Canned Food Drive, also returns this year. It was launched at the 2009 meet and renamed in 2012 to honor the late Tajay Hoppines, a former Mill Creek runner, and the late Hope McKenzie, the daughter of Gwinnett Cross Country Hall of Fame member Willie McKenzie.

The drive benefits the Southeast Gwinnett Co-Op, Wood’s charity of choice, and it features competition among the participating teams to see which can donate the most canned goods — Parkview is the defending champion. The team that collects the most canned goods gets its own portable toilet at the following year’s meet.

Donations to the Southeast Gwinnett Co-Op are down because of COVID-19, and the organization has asked specifically for the following items — canned pasta, canned chicken, canned beans, canned vegetables, canned fruit, tuna, soup, oatmeal, grits, deodorant, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, detergent (laundry and dish), tampons, baby diapers size 3-6 and pull-ups (all sizes), adult diapers (all sizes), wipes and pet food.

“Overall, we are just happy that we can give back a little to others, to help make their lives a little easier,” Christie said. “The cross country community is very caring and compassionate, and we are happy that the meet can pay it forward.”

The meet schedule is as follows:

Friday, Oct. 16

4:00pm Varsity Boys A-top 10

4:25pm Varsity Girls A-top 10

4:50pm JV Boys A-all JV

5:15pm JV Girls A-all JV

5:40pm Varsity Boys B-top 10

6:05pm Varsity Girls B-top 10

6:30pm JV Boys B-all JV

6:55pm JV Girls B-all JV

Saturday, Oct. 17

8:00am Varsity Boys C-top 10

8:25am Varsity Girls C-top 10

8:50am Champ JV Boys C-next 12

9:15am Champ JV Girls C-next 12

9:40am JV Boys C-rest of JV

10:05am JV Girls C-rest of JV

10:30am Varsity Boys D-top 10

10:55am Varsity Girls D-top 10

11:20am Champ JV Boys D-next 12

11:45am Champ JV Girls D-next 12

12:10pm JV Boys D-rest of JV

12:35pm JV Girls D-rest of JV

1:00pm Varsity Boys E-top 10

1:25pm Varsity Girls E-top 10

1:50pm Champ JV Boys E-next 12

2:15pm Champ JV Girls E-next 12

2:40pm JV Boys E-rest of JV

3:05pm JV Girls E-rest of JV

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