In 1971, a group of recent Sahuaro High School graduates, who had run cross-country, thought it would be a good idea to challenge the current youth of the cross-country team to a race. It would be a head to head confrontation over the new distance of 2.8 miles. The Arizona Athletic Association had just increased the race distance from 2 miles to 3 miles over the summer. The race would be run at Pantano Park, now called Jesse Owens. It was August and a few of the graduates had not done a lot of running. The end result was a big win for the high school team. Most importantly, a bond was created between the graduates and the graduates to be.
For many years the race was just called, "The Old Timers Race". In honor of the first cross-country coach at Sahuaro High School, it is now called the "John Coleman Invitational". Mr. Coleman coached the first four years at the school, and later became an administrator for the Tucson Unified School District. Mr. Coleman set the tone for excellence and high standards in those days. The athletes worked hard, had fun, and improved year after year. All of the boys were required to wear ties on the day of the meets. In 1970 the cross-country team finished 2nd in the State meet. In 1972 his track team won the Southern Division meet. The distance runners scored four places deep in the mile and two mile and two in the half mile. It was that strong showing that caused the meet committee to restrict the number of athletes from each school to three per event in the future.
After all these years, the race is still being run on virtually the same course, though the distance was reduced after a few years to 1.9 miles. The competition is still fierce and camaraderie is strong across decades of runners. The original graduates are still showing up, greyer, slower, heavier, but still enjoying the run. The school has gone through only four coaches since 1972. Raul Gomez coached four years, Jeff Lockwood for 17 years, Dan Gaul (an original cross-country team member) for eight years, and Ron Wightman for three years as of 2005. Dan Gaul has returned as Sahuaro's cross-country coach after that. Pam North and Kevin Handshoe have been coaching the team the past few years.
The race has moved to the Saturday after Thanksgiving because that is a time when people are most likely to be in town visiting parents and relatives. The race is always run at 10am for the benefit of those of us who sleep in, or just take longer to get moving. Cookies, donuts, sandwiches, and pop are plentiful for the after race party. Stories of dubious escapades can be heard from some as well as past exploits, current events, and future expectations. Everybody has a great time and looks forward to the next annual meeting.