Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival

How many city limit signs in the country have a list of the national championships? Even more amazing, how many are not football or basketball, but running? The Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival has been host to our nationally-ranked University of Arkansas cross country track programs for several years. It is one of the premiere high school and amateur cross country events in the country. This highly-anticipated sporting festival, in its 18th year, has put Northwest Arkansas on the map, yet again for another great community event.

This one-day event will attract 4,000 runners comprised of 85 college teams from across the nation, over 150 high school teams from surrounding states and more than 600 amateur runners to the Northwest Arkansas area. Equally impressive is that there will be more than 4,000 spectators, many of who are parents and grandparents of the college and high school runners.

This year's 10K Open race is the RRCA National, as well as the Arkansas State and Southern Region Cross Country Championships.

The festival has a very unique history. In 1988, Joe Fennel, Randy Rhine and Kelly O'Meara, the Fayetteville High School cross country coach, were out running. Kelly mentioned that his cross country budget was $100.00. Joe and Randy created the Chile Pepper Running Club and from there, the Chile Pepper Run. It was originally held in May and consisted of the 10K open cross-country run only.

The festival was created in 1992 to bring together three Northwest Arkansas cross country races under a single event -- the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival, which is now one of the premier running events in America. The festival united the Chile Pepper Run, the Arkansas Invitational (the annual Lady'Back and Razorback home meet) and the Fayetteville High School's Purple Dog Invitational.

Each year, the festival gives a portion of the race proceeds to the Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville high school cross-country programs. In 2005, a record $20,000 was donated to the high schools.

"Joe Fennel, festival founder, deserves so much credit for seeing the event to the level it is today. Without Joe and his passion and determination to raise awareness for what was considered a 'fringe' high school sport in the early nineties, I hate to think where the NW Arkansas cross country programs and for that matter, many of the state of Arkansas high school programs would be today," said Bruce Dunn, who is now the current race director. "The purpose of the race is to support the high school programs in Northwest Arkansas and to showcase some of the top collegiate and high school runners from across the region and the United States."

"2005 was a record-setting year in terms of fundraising for the high schools. The Chile Pepper race committee donated $5,000 to each of the four area high schools. To see the appreciation and gratitude that the coaches and parents have for what the Chile Pepper has done for these high school programs makes all the hard work and long hours a very worthwhile experience," commented Dunn. "Both the committee and myself feel very blessed that we can make such an impact on the lives of these high school athletes."

Saturday, October 14th is when all the activities take place. The Open 1OK and the one-mile fun run/walk amateur event, which is open to anyone, will begin at 8:00am. The collegiate men's race is next followed by the collegiate women's race. Following the collegiate races, six boys and girls senior and junior high school races will be held.

"Over the years, the festival has grown to be more than just a running race; it has become a great community event," said Dunn. "The atmosphere at the Chile Pepper is truly unique to the sport of running. Nothing is more exciting for both the amateurs and the high school runners than to participate on the same course as the collegiate runners."

The festival has some other unique features that one cannot find elsewhere. Jose's and Jose's Southwest Grill Mexican restaurants feed all runners who participate in the race. The festival creates a 'running Chile pepper' themed t-shirt that sells out each year. For the winners in the Open race, a custom-designed pottery plate is a much-coveted award. And the elite-level boy's and girl's high school races have 'traveling' cups engraved with the school name of the winners of the team competition.

Visit www.chilepepperfestival.org for more detailed race information, event schedule and to download an entry form for the Open race and walk.


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