Sweet Home boys place fourth in Portland to Coast relay

A team of boys from Sweet Home’s cross-country program finished fifth overall and fourth in its division Saturday morning in the Portland to Coast High School Challenge relay race.

A team of mostly Sweet Home girls, Runnin’ Fools, finished second in its division, 28th overall in the field of 37 teams.

The boys team of Brinden Sanders, Dallin Holden, Ramiro Santana, Rob Callagan, Jake Comstock, Casey Keys, Dakotah Keys, James Myers, Byron Sanders, Michael Simmonds, Nikki Smith and Chris Thompson was named Back of the Pack. They finished the 127-mile course from Portland to Seaside in 14 hours, 55 minutes and 46 seconds – averaging 7:01 per mile – a Sweet Home record.

The girls team was a combination of Sweet Home and Cascade runners: Amanda Basham, Justine Calhoon, Caroline Amendola, Olivia Johnson, Jenna Kistner, Jill Mahler, Natasha Perry, Paige Sanders and Carissa Swanson of Sweet Home, and Emily Everetts, Hannah Burks and Ashley Kinney of Cascade.

They finished the course in 18:38.53, averaging 8:46 per mile after a variety of difficulties that included a couple of falls over potholes on rural roads in the darkness, an asthma attack and a few cases of bad blisters, according to volunteer coach Lela Danforth, who helped ferry the runners from exchange point to exchange point along the route.

“They pulled it together,” Danforth said. “They were hurting but they weren’t complaining.”

The race began at 6 p.m. at Portland’s Hawthorne Bridge and traveled along highways and back country roads to the beach on First Avenue in Seaside. Runners were required to wear reflective vests at night and headlamps. Each competitor had to run at least two legs, ranging in length from about four miles to nearly eight, many involving hills.

The overall winners were Kickin Asphalt, a team from Vancouver, Wash., who finished in 14:02.24 – a 6:36 pace. Second was Hippies on the Run of Warren, who sported tie-dyed shorts and finished in 14:05.47 (6:38), followed by the top mixed team, South Carolina Green Wave, which was composed of top runners from throughout that state and took third in 14:27.19 (6:48). Neon Soldiers of Bellevue, Wash. (14:41.10/6:54), another all-boys team, finished fourth overall, ahead of Sweet Home.

This year’s race was marred when a team member from Lincoln High School was hit by a car at about 9:10 p.m. Friday night along Highway 30, near one of the exchange points where runners handed off a wrist band to their next teammate.

Chelsee Jean Caskey, 18, suffered two broken legs, a fractured rib and several facial lacerations after striking the windshield of a car that police said hit her from behind as she ran along the highway. The driver of the 2003 Kia Rio, Chrystal Marie Meyer of Rainier, was later arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of intoxicants at the time of the incident.

“Thank God that wasn’t Justine out there on the highway,” said Sweet Home Coach Billy Snow. “Justine said she thinks she thinks she passed that girl early in her leg.”

Other than that and some late-night willies, things went well for Sweet Home, he said.

“I look back on it and the kids had a blast.”

Early in the race the boys were running as high as third place, but Snow said the proof of the pudding came in the second leg.

“It’s all about who can pick themselves up and run that second leg,” Snow said.

He noted that some of this year’s runners included Perry, who is a sprinter but has been developing her distance ability, and Myers, who is a pole vaulter in the spring and is new to cross-country.

Danforth said she could tell that some of the girls had doubts as Amendola started off the first leg at the bridge.

“They didn’t think they could do it,” she said. “They were really nervous. But once they got out there, something else took over them. It’s amazing how those girls came together.”

Snow said the experience was “a great bonding thing” for the youngsters.

“The kids competed well,” he said. “Most of them picked themselves up for that second leg.

“It’s amazing that our little school could put together almost two whole teams.”