By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships are slated to take place Saturday at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky., for the first time in the event’s history. Josh Heird is the Assistant Athletics Director for Facilities and Championships at the University of Louisville and serves as the championship meet director.
Heird sat down with the SEC Digital Network on Wednesday to discuss some of the behind-the-scenes and planning efforts that go into hosting the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
SEC Digital Network: What is the bid process like when trying to become a host site for the NCAA Cross Country Championships?
Josh Heird: “We’ve been wanting to host this for a long time. We put in the bid for this year back in 2008 and we’ve known for about three years that we were going to host it. We’ve put in bids before and didn’t get it. Terre Haute has done such a great job of hosting that event up there, and the NCAA and everybody involved has been reluctant to move it somewhere else. When we found out we would get a chance to host it, we were extremely excited. They didn’t necessarily ask us for anything specific in the bid process, it was really a matter of whether or not we thought we could put in a bid to host an event that reflects how we do things at the University of Louisville. That is a testament to our AD Tom Jurich. The only thing he ever says to me when we put on an event is to make sure it is first class. If we don’t feel we can do that, we don’t put in a bid.”
SEC Digital Network: Were there any improvements that had to be made at the course at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park before you felt you could host a meet of this caliber?
Josh Heird: “We did have to tell the NCAA that we would make some improvements to the course. This course has been evolving over the years. We have taken a number of trees out; we’ve removed about 12-15 trees throughout the course. We also essentially put in a culvert because there’s a stream that kind of runs through the course. A lot of improvements have been made and it’s been a cooperative effort with the state park, the University and the Greater Louisville Sports Commission. We hosted the NCAA Division II nationals here in 2010 and that was beneficial to us to host that and see how that meet ran. We’ve also hosted the 2007 and 2011 BIG EAST Championships. We’ve had a number of meets here and we knew we could put on a first-class event, but there are always question marks when you’re putting in a bid for a national championship type meet because we hadn’t hosted anything like that.”
SEC Digital Network: When did the work begin for your staff to prepare for the NCAA Cross Country Championships and how has that increased as you’ve gotten closer to the event?
Josh Heird: “The good thing about cross country is that if you’re hosting the national championships, you’ve got to host the Pre-National Meet. Obviously, that was very, very beneficial for us in figuring out exactly what we wanted to do for the national championships. Pre-Nationals were on October 13. The preliminary planning really started before this fall semester started; our site visit with the NCAA was in August. We really started ramping up for Pre-Nationals in the middle of September. The participants at the Pre-National Meet, numbers wise, is more than double the size of the national championship field. There were roughly a little over 1,300 athletes for Pre-Nationals and only about 550 for the national meet.”
SEC Digital Network: What have you had to do in terms of staffing to prepare for the NCAA Cross Country Championships?
Josh Heird: “That’s always the trickiest part. For any institution that hosts any NCAA event and conferences that host postseason events, the biggest issue is usually making sure there are enough people to run the event. Everybody is doing their full-time job and then they’ve got to find time to put on a championship. I’ve been really lucky to be able to work with someone here in David Lawhorn, who is a really, really big track and cross country fan who we pay on a consultant basis. He puts a great deal of effort and work into making sure these events run well. He’s obviously got a full-time job as well. He’s been here since Sunday and will be here a week. He took a week off of work to help with this event. From there, it’s really a bunch of volunteers. It is a lot of volunteers. We’ll probably, after it’s all said and done, have close to 150 volunteers.”
SEC Digital Network: What are some things that will take place this week with relation to the NCAA Cross Country Championships that the casual fan might not know about?
Josh Heird: “I think it’s just, across the board, making sure that everything runs smoothly from the time the NCAA Committee gets here to the banquet, which is Thursday night. The casual fan probably doesn’t know that we’re hosting a banquet for 800 people – student-athletes, coaches and staff – on Thursday night; we’re responsible for that. On Friday, we have the team packet pick-up and the coaches meeting. There is a lot of behind the scenes stuff that the casual fan probably doesn’t see. Timing is a big aspect of it. I equate it to a road race – if you run a 5K or a 10K and your chip doesn’t read, that’s a problem, but you probably have a watch on, so you have a pretty good idea of what you ran. With a meet of this caliber, we can’t miss a single athlete. If we do, we’re going to hear about it pretty quick. I think that’s the most interesting part about it, the amount of effort that goes into making sure the results are correct. In this meet, athletes have a chip on their shoe and they have a bib on their front and back with a chip on each of those. They have three chips and then all of those results will be verified with a camera at the finish line.”
SEC Digital Network: What has the process been like working with the NCAA staff and committee on this championship?
Josh Heird: “It’s a real collaborative process with the NCAA. We’ve hosted a lot of events here and they’ve always been great to work with. I think with any collaborative effort, they have their way of doing things and we have our way but, at the end of the day, we have the same goal in mind, which is making sure the student-athletes have the best experience possible. That perspective makes it easy when we’re all working towards the same goal. Their staff has been great – Holly Sheilley and Ashley Dunigan have been easy to work with. At the end of the day, we all want it to be a great event Saturday.”
SEC Digital Network: Having gone through this process, will the University of Louisville have any interest in hosting this event again in the future?
Josh Heird: “Absolutely. The ability of schools all across the country to come in and see Louisville, Ky., I don’t think you can measure how important that is to the University and city. We will have programs here from the west coast and east coast that don’t normally come to Louisville. For them to see the city and the University, it’s immeasurable. We would definitely look forward to the opportunity to host again.”