THE LEGENDS OF CROSS COUNTRY 5K HISTORY
By Phil Lawton
The purpose of the Legends of Cross Country has always been to honor the best high school cross country runners in Southern Nevada, past and present. Established in 1997, Legends of Cross Country initially included the top 50 Southern Nevada high school cross country runners from the 80’s and 90’s. All state champions and southern zone winners from those years, plus a few other outstanding runners from area high schools chosen arbitrarily by me. Since that beginning in 1997, the list has been expanded and broadened annually by adding athletes from as far back as 1972 (for boys) and 1978 (for the girls), since those are the first years that a Nevada State Championship was held in cross country. Those selected were again chosen by me after consultation with other local-area cross country coaches.
In 2001 I turned the Legends selection process over to a committee of current and retired coaches and past Legends. I used the Baseball Hall of Fame selection process as a guideline and came up with criteria for selection that required 75% of the votes for induction from a list of nominees that included current graduating high school seniors who had been cross country standouts. The only automatic selections now are State Champions of the top Division, currently 5A.
In 2020 a Veteran’s Committee was created to consider some overlooked, potential Legends. This was successfully done and eight Legends, from the years 1972-1981, were inducted in 2021. They became the Class of 2020, which was fortuitous since 2020, the second COVID year, all competition was canceled, including the State Championships.
Criteria for Selection
State Champions (all classes). Making all individual State Champions Legends was a decision I made when I created this so-called Southern Nevada Cross Country Legends Hall of Fame. It did allow some athletes to get in “through the back door,” so to speak. Some athletes who would probably not get “elected” otherwise qualified because, arguably, they won their state meet against a weak field. With the revision of the league alignments by the NIAA (most recently in 2021) making 5A the top class, it was determined that only 5A individual State Champions would be automatic Legends.
2. Eastbay-Footlocker and Nike Team Nationals: recognized athletes. Both Footlocker-Eastbay and NXN are ultra competitive, even more so than our state meet. If an athlete achieves recognition (Seeded races only), at either the Eastbay-Footlocker West Regional or NXN SW qualifier, he or she is given special consideration for immediate Legend status. That recognition is subject to change but currently is defined as All-West at Eastbay-Footlocker (top 24), or a top-10 finisher in the Seeded race at NXN SW and/or one of individual qualifiers for the NXN Finals.
Graduating senior from a Southern Nevada high school who has run cross country in Nevada for at least two years, but more likely three or four years.
a. Primary selection is based on how well an athlete has achieved at the Nevada State Meet and secondarily how well the athlete has performed in other championship meets such as Frosh-Soph, Conference or League, and Zone or Regionals.
To be recognized as a Legend implies that the athlete stood out from his or her peers as an outstanding runner, within the time frame of his or her high school years. Some Legends have been outstanding from the beginning: as freshmen all the way through their senior years. Others have shown steady progress and don’t excel right away (often the case with boys). However, almost all Legends will have excelled among their peers in Nevada for at least two years. (The exception would include a runner who is a 5A state champion regardless of longevity.)
a. Primary selection is based on how well an athlete has achieved at the Nevada State Meet and secondarily how well the athlete has performed in other championship meets such as Frosh-Soph, Conference or League, and Zone or Regionals. Footlocker, USATF JO’s, Nike Team Nationals and any other cross country achievements occurring after the state meet but before the end of the calendar year could also be taken into account, if applicable.
b. In considering runners who ran for smaller schools (A-1/2/3), their achievements should be judged in direct comparison (both time and place) with the top classes (A-4 and 5 at the present time) runners. For example, how did the A-2 runner’s time at the state meet compare with the times of runners who ran the A-5 race over the same course on the same day? The Frosh-Soph Championship race is also an indicator since in that race all freshman and sophomores compete against their contemporaries in a single race.
c. Injuries and special circumstances should be considered as well. If an athlete misses all or most of a season due to an injury/illness and performs “not-so-well or not-at-all” at Region or State it should not disqualify out of hand. The “body of work” must be the prime consideration. This is another reason that to be elected as a Legend the running resume’ should be more than two years long in most cases. Also, too, how you get to state counts. A runner who qualifies for state as the sixth or seventh runner on the team—because his or her team qualified— probably doesn’t have the same value as a runner who qualifies as an individual.
THE SELECTION PROCESS
1. State Champions (5A) are added as Legends in the year in which they win a Nevada state championship.
2. Following the completion of the cross country season each year, two ballots (boys and girls) of graduating seniors who have had “noteworthy high school careers” will be prepared by the Legends Selection Committee. This committee is made up of current and retired coaches and Legends (must have completed high school career) and is subject to change from year to year.
3. There is no limit on the list of nominees (or inductees) from year to year; however, the selection committee will normally vote for up to three boys and up to three girls for selection (or one less than 50% of the number of nominees on the ballot). To be elected, a nominee must be named on at least 75% of the ballots. Any nominee who is named on at least 50% of the ballots will be automatically carried over to the next year.
The Legends of Cross Country are honored at an annual 5K run held in late summer before the start of the high school cross country season, usually the first Saturday in August. The event has been held continuously since 1997. The first Legends Run was held at Pueblo Park in Summerlin. From 1998 to 2000 Legends was held at Lorenzi Park. Thereafter it has been held at Sunset Park, Old Silver Bowl Park, and Veterans Memorial Park
The two most notable multiple winners of the Legends 5K are Jeremy Sudbury and J. J. Santana, both five-time winners.
In 2006, Jeremy, while still in high school, finished 2nd (behind fellow Legend Solomon Bennett). The next year 2007, and for next four years (as a college runner at Paradise Valley JC and the University of Oklahoma), he finished as the first male runner.
JJ Santana first won in 2015; finished second in 2016; and has been the top male finisher four of the last five years: 2017-2021.
The top female to have won Legends more than once is Legend Sydney Badger, who won four times: 2012-2014 and 2016. Another Legend, Amanda Gramly Henriques, has won twice: in 2003, while she was still in high school, and eight years later, in 2011.
Southern Nevada Cross Country Legends Foundation
Until 2022, the Legends of Cross County pretty much operated under the umbrella of the Las Vegas Track Club. The Legends Run was (with one exception in 2001) an LVTC event. Sadly, in 2022 the LVTC dissolved for a variety of reasons. In 2020 I saw this coming and decided to formerly establish the Legends of Cross Country as a non-profit 501(c)(3) foundation. I also wanted to resurrect the LVTC Scholarship Program (of which I was the Chair from 2000-2020).
This came to fruition when the Southern Nevada Cross Country Legends Foundation was officially established in April of 2022. This year’s Legends Run will be our one and only race (July 30th at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Boulder City), and the 2022 Legends Foundation Scholarship Program (albeit with a modest beginning, financially) has been inaugurated.
In the future, it is proposed that the Foundation will continue to support and promote high school cross country in Southern Nevada, not only honoring past Legends (and inducting future Legends) but also invigorating the sport through publicity and donations, via the Scholarship Program and donations to teams and the Southern Nevada Cross Country and Track Coaches Association. The Foundation’s Board of Directors includes Legends, current and retired coaches, and members of the Southern Nevada community who are committed to cross country running as a sport.