Editor’s note: After reading of the death of John Andrews at 78 on Sept. 27, 2022, in the obituaries of the Nov. 19 edition of the Clarion, I thought it would be appropriate to rerun my column, originally published on June 5, 2001. I would also note the state cross-country meet has never returned to Tsalteshi Trails.
The state cross country running championship is a perfect event to sum up the good things about the career of John Andrews. Time will tell if it’s also the perfect event to epitomize the bad thing about Andrews’ career.
First, we’ll start with the good stuff.
When Andrews, who retired as Skyview’s athletic director recently, first started at Skyview, the state cross country championship was firmly entrenched in other areas of the state.
However, just as he did with other events such as the Skyview Invitational for both track and cross country, Andrews decided to roll up his sleeves and, through hard work, turn the focus to Skyview and the Kenai Peninsula.
With the blessing of Skyview’s cross country booster club, Andrews wrote the bid for state cross country meet and learned on March 10, 1997, that Skyview would be hosting the state meet in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
“Palmer had been hosting the state tournament forever and had been doing a great job with it, so there was some risk in them awarding it to us,” Andrews said. “By getting it, we were able to turn the spotlight on Skyview and the trail system.”
Skyview has certain facilities, like its track and the trail system behind the school, that make it capable of hosting big events. Andrews was always pushing to make fullest use of those facilities, and the state cross country meet was no exception.
“Tsalteshi Trails is one of the best trail systems in the state, if not the nation,” Andrews said.
While most cross country trails are designed merely to dodge trees, the numerous volunteers that constructed Tsalteshi took as much care as a golf course designer in laying it out over the wooded and hilly terrain. It is a perfect environment for conducting a state cross country meet in Alaska.
As he did with all of his other events, Andrews threw in a ton of bells and whistles to make the state meet special and to make sure Skyview maintained its reputation as a great place to take athletes on a road trip.
He had an awards ceremony with a parade of athletes and video of the just-completed race, a booklet focusing on seniors at the meet and a social hour the evening before the race allowing athletes to talk about varied experiences from across Alaska.
As was the case with Andrews’ other big events, the state cross country meet had numerous benefits for the community.
For instance, the 1998 meet had 63 schools and 342 runners from around the state. That equates to a lot of people purchasing meals and hotel rooms around town. State meets are so valuable to a community’s economy that the Soldotna Sports Center gives away ice time so Soldotna can continue to host the state hockey tournament.
The meet also benefited the community by introducing it to Tsalteshi Trails and getting it more in the frame of mind to exercise. By this year, knowledgeable spectators were scrambling in and out of the woods to different points on the trail to follow progress of the runners.
It was a welcome change from the prototypical American sports scene, which too often turns athletes into spectators after their high school glory days are over, plopping them down on the couch to gorge on unhealthy food and drink while watching people do the things they, once upon a time, joyfully did.
The meet also gave Mario Bird, Andy Liebner, the Nikiski boys team and the Soldotna boys team home-course advantage when they won their state titles. When Liebner won this year, he was the first Kenai Peninsula runner to win a state meet contested against runners from Anchorage’s big schools.
Now, for the bad part.
The state cross country meet will be returning to Palmer next year because when it came time to bid for it, Andrews knew he would be retiring and nobody else stepped up to do all the work a state meet requires. Skyview now will have to wait three years before having a chance to get the meet back again.
Here’s hoping that the state cross country meet doesn’t come to symbolize a typical big event organized by Andrews — great use of Skyview’s facilities, great for the community and gone once he retired.