The Milton High School cross country team’s annual senior meet was supposed to be held Saturday at the Westover Invitational in Albany.
Hurricane Michael changed that in a hurry.
“We’d been speaking with the race organizers the last few days,” said Milton Cross Country booster Heather Bonneville. “And they thought even though they were going to get hit, they’d be able to pull off the meet. But (Thursday morning) they said they’d have to cancel it because there was just too much damage there.”
That left the Eagles from north Fulton County scrambling to find a place to run.
Then they found Richmond Hill and Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Christy Sherman, who was willing to go the extra mile.
And in a day, Thursday in fact, it was a done deal.
First, the Eagles learned that Richmond Hill High School’s Hill on Wheels XC Fishy Invite was Saturday at Sterling Creek Park, and Richmond Hill coach Levi Sybert “welcomed our invited athletes to participate in their meet on short notice,” Bonnesville said.
Then she found Sherman.
And, with Sherman’s help, Milton found motel rooms for about 140 people, a place for them to gather Friday night and a caterer to feed the team.
Bonneville, one of a number of booster board members for the school’s Class AAAAAAA cross country program (it boasts 184 runners, only 80 of whom made the trip, said Sherman was “wonderful” in helping her get the trip put together.
Bonneville said Sherman helped secure the park’s outdoor group shelter at Fort McAllister for the team’s
Next up for praise were local motel representatives Juleen Speaks of Holiday Inn Express and Alicia Mixell at Best Western, and the caterers at Magnolia Catering who “were great to come through with menus and deliver that much food, and all on a day’s notice.”
This meet isn't an ordinary meet for Milton, it seems. It's an especially big deal to the team’s seniors and their parents, said Bonneville.
“In years past we have taken our senior trip to Furman University, which unfortunately didn't happen this year because of another hurricane, so we are so excited to take this trip to Richmond Hill," she said.
And they’re happy to be here for more than the scenic views of marsh grass and Spanish moss..
Milton is one of the state’s top programs in Class AAAAAAA and its boys’ team won the 2017 state title in its classification. Richmond Hill under coach Levi Sybert has become one of the top programs in Class AAAAAA over the past several years. The RHHS girls finished 10th last year, the boys third.
“We are excited to race one of the top AAAAAA programs in the state of Georgia, Richmond Hill High School,” Bonneville said, adding that the Wildcats “ made a big impression on us when they won the 6A/7A division race at the Carrollton Invitational, the site of the GHSA State Champ meet, earlier this season.”
What’s more, the Eagles top girl runner, Nyah Hernandez, who won the Class AAAAAA title in 2016, “has raced Richmond Hill before and is anxious to compete again a top level program on their home course,” Bonneville said.
Sherman said she was happy to help, and praised Fort McAllister State Park director Jason Carter for arranging the shelter on short notice.
Besides, it's her job.
“I was so happy to help Heather and the kids find what they needed to be comfortable and to have a great experience in Richmond Hill," Sherman said. "The mission of the Richmond Hill CVB is to connect visitors with local businesses and attractions. Clearly, we have a great network of partners in our community who help make my job easy.”
Meanwhile, RHHS' coach Sybert is an admirer of the Milton program. He said the school's request "was an honor."
"Yes, it was really interesting and an honor to get this request from Milton. It really turned my head, as Coach Hammeshar and I are always looking for ways to improve our program well beyond by just executing better workouts and last year, Milton really turned my head in the way they executed their XC program," Sybert said in an email. "I came across this one picture and it made my jaw drop. I saved it, printed if and put it on my office wall above my left monitor to help keep me motivated to grow in the same manner that Coach Hammesfahr and I challenge our own athletes to grow daily."
"I counted more girls than boys and was like what the heck…what are they doing right there? So getting this request is quite the coincidence and am happy that we will have some great competition added to a home meet. We travel so far so many times throughout the year to find teams like them. Their program is a class act and I hope our kids get the vibe of what we can be with patience, time, and a direct long term goal of true excellence," Sybert said.