Thoughts from 2018 Billy Goat Challenge

Ted Rupe sat in a van as he always has, parked by the finish line at Woodland Park. He was at the 2018 Billy Goat Challenge — staring at his laptop computer.

“I’m playing solitaire,” he joked.

Rupe, whose name echoes thoughts of epic distance jaunts at Maplewood High School, Cleveland State University or as one of the Ohio’s best road racers, was the former Maplewood boys cross country coach before retiring in 2011.

Today, he and his wife, Michelle, an accomplished road racer in her own right, are official timers for cross country and events on pavement. It’s called Gopher Running, a system in whcih plastic orange squares with embedded computer chips tabulate the time of each athlete crossing the finish line. It’s usually intertwined on the runners’ shoelaces.

As the high school girls results were printed, Rupe quickly noticed a team not normally associated with a top-two finish ? Howland.

Rupe suggested I’d better go talk to them. I took the result and sought out those orange uniforms with black lettering. Reminds me of my favorite college basketball team, Syracuse. Not hard to find.

Finally tracked down coach Robin Kapalko, who was an outstanding distance runner for Howland. She’s in her third year as varsity coach for the Tigers after being the junior high distance coach.

The second-place finish validated the efforts of a team which has four seniors and is peppered with juniors, sophomores and freshmen on its 20-person roster. Beating out McDonald, which took fourth, wasn’t too bad either.

Two things stood out about Howland ? they pack up like most successful teams, and the cohesiveness stays once they exit the track. Good sign on both parts.

Kapalko, who is admittedly a fan of the Rupe way of coaching, molds her team the same way. Not bad since Maplewood and McDonald boys cross country teams each won seven state championships.

Chris Rupe, McDonald coach, mentored the Blue Devils’ last five titles, while his older brother, Ted, either ran or coached Maplewood’s first five.

Woodridge, which won this year’s high school boys Billy Goat Challenge, is tied with both schools with seven state titles.

The best part of this Howland team is depth and youth. Highly doubtful the success the Tigers experienced Saturday fades away any time soon. It might be the start of something special for the girls in orange and black.

As for McDonald, the boys were without some of their top runners and still placed second. Talk about depth, these Blue Devils had top-10 finishes from Connor Symbolik, Brody Rupe and Zach Canada, all in less than 18:02 on their home course. Elliot Gibbons was the only senior in the top seven for McDonald, finishing 16th overall.

Then there was Garfield’s Tyler Klouda, one of the best distance runners in the area, who led the boys race from beginning to end. As he approached Billy Goat Hill, where runners have to avoid tree roots while climbing a 45-degree dirt hill, Klouda leaned forward on his run to keep his pace. Most runners followed his lead.

His 16:39.3 from Saturday is bound to drop as the month of September continues.

Maplewood junior Hunter Omerzo and Champion’s Joe Abramavich were in the top 15. Abramavich is one of the starters on the Golden Flashes basketball team. Glad to see he’s in multiple sports and getting much-needed, off-season training for Nathan Kish’s team this winter.

Lakeview sophomore Sydney Dobler, and McDonald juniors Anna Guerra and Bella Wolford were in the top 10, while Mineral Ridge freshmen Moriah-Ruth Toth and Sylvia Traw placed in the top 25. Some names to watch as the season progresses.

The biggest disappointment was no sighting of a live goat at the event. There’s a nicely carved wooded goat on the site, but no live one. Maybe in 2019?