Archer's Emily Cragin (1439) leads a pack of runners at the 2021 Gwinnett County Cross Country Championships.

The 19th annual Coach Wood Invitational, named for longtime Gwinnett coach Rick Wood, brings 73 schools and more than 3,200 cross country runners to the McIntosh Nature Preserve in Whitesburg on Saturday.

The meet is still heavily tied to Gwinnett both through Wood, who coached at Grayson and South Gwinnett, and with Mill Creek head boys coach Andy Christie, a former runner for Wood who oversees the meet.

Gwinnett teams with runners in the field are Archer, Berkmar, Brookwood, Collins Hill, Duluth, Grayson, Greater Atlanta Christian, Hebron Christian, Mill Creek, Norcross, North Gwinnett, Parkview, Peachtree Ridge, Shiloh and Wesleyan.

The Boys Championship Division features nine of the top 10 teams in the all-classification rankings, led by No. 1 Mill Creek, No. 2 Decatur and No. 3 Marietta. The Girls Championship Race also includes nine of the top 10, including No. 1 Marist, No. 2 Pace Academy and No. 3 St. Pius.

Another meet tradition, the 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 features competition among the participating teams to see which can donate the most canned goods. The team that collects the most canned goods gets its own portable toilet at the following year’s meet. Spectators and teams are encouraged to bring canned good donations to Saturday’s meet.

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