September 21, 2009
From GRCVB Sports Marketing

Great American Cross Country Festival Returns to Cary

By Korie Sawyer 

One of the largest and most prestigious running events in the country returns to Cary this fall when the Great American Cross Country Festival is held at WakeMed Soccer Park.

More than 2,000 high school and college runners from across the country will compete in Cary during the Oct. 2-3 event, which is owned and managed by the National Scholastic Sports Foundation (NSSF).

Representatives from the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Town of Cary, the two host partners, predict that the Great American will have a tremendous and positive impact on the community and will help to strengthen Cary's brand as an amateur sports mecca.

"The Great American ranks as our signature running event as well as one of the largest youth sporting events of any kind on our calendar" says Scott Dupree, Vice President for Sports Marketing at the Greater Raleigh CVB. "We are thrilled to partner with the Town of Cary to bring it back to WakeMed Soccer Park, and it's a perfect fit for that venue. This is a win-win situation all the way around."

Support from the Greater Raleigh CVB and the Town of Cary are major reasons for the return to Cary, according to Jim Spier, president of the NSSF. He also had plenty of praise for the venue itself.

"It's a great course, probably among the top 10 in the U.S." Spier said.

Runners from throughout the nation are looking forward to their chance to run at WakeMed.

"I'm looking forward to racing against the national level competition at Great American," said Clint McKelvey, who runs for Maryvale (Tenn.) High School. "I've heard it's a great course, so I'm looking forward to running on it and hopefully running a fast time."

The chief characteristics of the WakeMed Soccer Park layout that make it such a good venue include its long, downhill straightway, a limited number of hills, the beautiful woods located in the back part of the course as well as its long upgrade to the finish line, according to Spier.

William Davis, athletic manager for the Town of Cary, knows the course better than just about anyone.

"We have heard rave reviews on the 10 degree drop in temperature through the woods portion, as well as the "challenge" aspect of the course," Davis said. "The areas we have dramatically improved over the years have been the running surface throughout the course and the start/finish surface. We are continually working to improve the fan experience. The good thing about the course for the runners is that it is not a short loop. Of course, that same attribute can make it a bit challenging from the spectator perspective."

Cary and GRCVB officials are pleased the event will also return in 2010 and 2011. The Great American Cross Country Festival was last held in North Carolina from 2003-2005 before moving to Hoover, Ala.

"We ran at Great American in Hoover my freshman year," McKelvey said. "I didn't really like the course, and the change to the Cary course is the reason we decided to come to the meet again this year for the first time since then. I'm hoping also some of the good New England runners will come down to the race that wouldn't have if it was still in Hoover."

While the community of Hoover was terrific, the geographic location hindered many teams from participating, according to Spier.

"It was very difficult for those (athletes) from Virginia (up) to New England to get to Alabama," Spier said. "As a result, we had no schools from that area in 2008. That has changed dramatically for 2009 in that we will have many schools from Virginia, New York and New England. And many of those schools are ranked in the top 25 in the U.S."

The three-year contract to hold the Great American at WakeMed Soccer Park will also be a great way to boost the local economy and strengthen the Cary sports brand. This year, the estimated direct visitor spending is $475,000, based on an estimated 1,500 room nights that will be booked in area hotels.

"The Great American is a national-caliber race," Dupree said. "It's run by a first-class organization (the NSSF), and it showcases Cary and WakeMed Soccer Park to thousands of young athletes from throughout the U.S. And, of course, there is the direct visitor spending -- which is always an important factor, but especially this year in this economy."

The Great American is one of many events that is helping to position WakeMed Soccer Park as a top-flight sports destination. The park is also hosting the Nike Cross Nationals Southeast Regional Championship, also run by the NSSF, in late November -- not to mention all of the championship soccer events held there during the fall, as well as Carolina Railhawks professional soccer in the summer.

"The Town will benefit from Great American in several ways," according to Davis. "One is visitor spending in hotels, businesses and restaurants. Two is volunteerism of the local schools and running clubs who are helping to host the event. And three, the success of this event will help the Town to continue to attract national and high profile events in cross country and other sports."

For more information on the Great American, including a complete schedule of events, visit the official event web site at There are a total of 18 races -- two on Friday, Oct. 2 (for collegiate runners) and 16 on Saturday, Oct. 3.

For area cross country enthusiasts interested in watching the Great American, parking is $10 and admission to the race is free.