Marathon run 20 years later, Hereford's Heffner is crossing Invitational country for last time

October 04, 1990|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

* Cross country rankings are now included in the High School Extra scoreboard.

First, get one thing straight: Jim Heffner has never billed his Hereford Invitational cross country extravaganza as an annual.

Heffner began his get-together in 1970, but he took off 1973 to help with the care of newborn daughter Sherry. Saturday's [10 a.m.] 20th Hereford Invitational will be the last, and there's a symmetry to the finish, because Sherry Heffner is a senior runner for Dallastown High, one of the Pennyslvania powers that routinely plunder the locals.

He is aware that dropping the Hereford Invitational will leave a huge hole on the schedule, but Heffner also knows he's done as much as anyone to further high school cross country in these parts.

"This race has a lot of meaning to me, but I can say it's time to stop," Heffner said. "It's become difficult to continue. I am nostalgic, and it's hard to give the thing up, but 20 years is a long time. When this started, Richard Nixon still had three years left on his [first presidential] term."

The meet began with 11 boys teams, but in 1986 there were 105 schools and nearly 1,900 kids competing. Saturday's crowd will be slightly smaller, approximately 90 schools, but there's no end to the preparation and crisis management. The line of volunteer help is endless.

When a runner goes down in the finish chute, a Hereford cheerleader takes his place. Heffner's fellow Baltimore County coaches officiate. The Walder family organizes concessions. Bill Schmalzer, a biology teacher, got a first-aid system organized, and the rest of the school's staff, from administration to custodians, helps with the details.

The constant has been Heffner, a business teacher who has outlasted five principals. The Hereford Invitational was his concept and his alone.

It became a must for Maryland schools because the course, famed for a killer hill going out and coming in and a maze, will host the state championships for the 11th straight year next month.

Pennsylvania schools take on a big profile because that's where Heffner lives, in Glen Rock. He admitted: "We're going to have more schools from York County than Baltimore County this year." Oakland Mills (three times in the last four years) and Archbishop Curley (1987) are the only state boys teams to reign since 1984.

Besides organizing the key meeting, Heffner also is believed to be the dean of area coaches in terms of continuous service at one school. He took over the Bulls in 1966 and added four state team titles to an already-rich boys tradition, then guided the girls to state titles in 1978-80.

"I had no idea what running was about," Heffner said. "I was blessed with some great kids, who told me what I had to do to keep the program going. I read a lot."

First and foremost, there were the Cornwells. Scott was the first of four brothers to win Hereford Invitational titles, taking the inaugural in 1970, when he covered 2 1/2 miles in 12 minutes, 47.2 seconds. When this year's winners are done with a course that has grown to three miles, Scott will hand out the awards.

There were great rains in 1975 and controversy in 1980, when High Point's Robbie Raisbeck wasn't penalized for cutting the course because that's the way it was showed him.

Other than that, Heffner isn't much on recalling specific races. When asked the best runner he had ever seen at the Invitational, however, Heffner didn't hesitate. Lois Brommer, a Mechanicsburg, Pa., product who would later run at Stanford, became the first and only three-time winner in 1979-81.

If Heffner is short on memories, he has gained a different lifestyle out of his association with runners.

"I was a heavy smoker when I got into this," said Heffner. "One of my principals got on me about that, and said I was setting a terrible example. He was right."

Heffner became a runner himself. He has run the Boston Marathon 11 times, and in 1981 posted a personal best of two hours, 41 minutes. His own running log is one reason there will be no special celebration Saturday night.

"I'm in a team triathlon Sunday morning," Heffner said. "I get the leadoff leg, a 10-K run, then I get to sit back and relax."

He deserves it.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.