Bellingham - For most of Whatcom County high schools, many of the students are still on spring break enjoying their time off from work and spending time with family members. As for high school track athletes, majority of them are returning to the area this week for the annual Birger Solberg Invite taking place at Civic Stadium this Saturday.
Who is Birger Solberg though? Solberg was a former track and field and football coach at Sehome High School back in the late 80's and early 90's. During his time as the football coach, Solberg led the Mariners to two 10 win seasons in 1993 and 1995 and had a combined record of 62-38 during his 11 years at Sehome.
Unfortunately, Solberg was diagnosed with lymphoma in 1998 and after a 6 month battle, he passed away on February 2nd, 1999 in Bellingham, Washington.
The Birger Solberg Invite continues today in honor of the late football and track coach as the invite is now in its 12th year running. It is without a doubt the largest invite in Whatcom County as it draws more than 30 teams a year up to Bellingham from various locations.
Besides the fact this invite is ran so well by the Sehome High School track and field team, what draws so many teams up here is one the more unique events in track and field: the 2000 meter steeplechase.
Sehome head coach and meet director Kevin Ryan says the steeplechase draws the biggest crowds because it is not your typical high school event at this level of track.
"We started the steeplechase right off the bat." Ryan said in a phone interview. "The first year of the invite was in 2007, so this is the 11th year of the steeple race as we started to run it in 2008. Each year, a lot of competitors make their main focus on the steeplechase."
The Birger Solberg is just 1 of 2 invites in the state of Washington to have this event as the other place you can run this event is in Yakima at the Holder relays.
"This race definitely draws a huge crowd since this is something you rarely get to watch. They're is usually a handful of kids that have done it before and some that have never, and those who have never realize it is a lot tougher than they thought. It is a great chance for those top distance kids that are looking to put something on their college track resume for schools to look at."
Last years girls winner in the steeplechase was Kamiak's Alicia Anderson, as she won it in 7:22, will return to this years meet in hopes to claim another crown in this event. Anderson also ran the 1600 and won it (5:10) as well last year becoming the first athlete ever in Birger Solberg Invite history to win both the 2000 meter steeplechase and the 1600 meter.
Competing against Anderson in the girls race from Whatcom County will be Brigid Cronk from Mount Baker, Alyce Harlan from Nooksack Valley, and Maggie Mussard from Lynden. Arlin Holder from Nooksack Valley and Josiah Diacogiannis of Lynden will represent on the boy's side.
Saturday is going to featuring some very intriguing match ups, not just in the steeplechase, but for all the other distance races.
In the boys frosh/soph 1600, Logan Hanrahan of Anacortes and Lynden's Isaiah Ellis are the clear top 2 favorites as either one could win. Ryan believes having a freshman/sophomore race gives these young athletes a chance to perform well against someone who is the same age. He also says racing experience is a key to whether or not a young freshman, or sophomore, should compete against older, more experience athletes.
The Jackson boys are the clear favorites in the men's competitive 1600, but Sehome duo Lucas Cunningham and Tadeusz Pforte and Lynden Christian's Brooks DeWaard are Whatcom County's chances of beating the top 2 seeds from Jackson High School. The girls 1600 features Northwest duo junior Macenna Hanson and senior Isa Meyers going up against Sehome's Cameron Hodges. Ellie Erikson of Interlake is the clear favorite in the girls 1600.
Another Interlake favorite in this invite is 800 runner Carter Blunden, who ran 1:59 not to long ago. He will be going up against Lynden's Nick Kildall and Tate Hutchins in the men's 800 race. Both Hutchins and Kildall ran under 2 minutes last spring in the 800, so we definitely could see another great 800.
The girl's 800, Saville Feist from Anacortes highlights the girl's race as a favorite. Last summer, Feist was severely injured in a car accident and did not get to compete this last cross season. Sehome's Hodges is the only Whatcom County girl featured in this race.
In the final distance race of the day, both boy's and girl's race are represented well as Eric Steiger of Lynden Chrisitan and Pforte of Sehome go up against Van Valkenburg of Cedarcrest and Joseph Skoog from Jackson in the boy's race and Nooksack's Harlan runs against Northwest's Hanson and Jackson's Anna Skoog.
With the weather conditions not looking so great, Ryan expects both 3200 races to be run really tight in big packs as no one is going to want to lead especially with the big winds to be expected tomorrow.
The nice thing about hosting a meet at Civic during this time of year is all the covering in the seating area for the kids have and the heated bathrooms for the kids to stay warm.
A total of 36 teams will be at Civic Stadium this Saturday matching last years amount of teams. Tons of teams like to come back to his invite for the early season preparation for future invites and postseason.
"Jackson High School likes coming here along with other schools, but a group of coaches discussed about putting a meet on during this weekend with a main focus being on the distance schools. There is all theses fascinations on the short sprints and the jumps at other invites, the distance kids get the short end of it, so with this meet we give them the heavy end adding the steeple, the 4x800 meters relay, and the freshman/sophomore race."
Whatcom County looks to impress many schools from all over the state, up in Canada, and even from Alaska this weekend in hopes of bringing some wins to their schools.
"We may not have the superstars like we have had in the past, but I still think we will do very well with the LC kids, Alyce from Nooksack, and Cameron from Sehome. Definitely a great representation from the county will get the job done."