Chile Pepper 'launching pad' for Razorbacks' season

By: Rick Fires
Published: Friday, September 29, 2017
Arkansas' Alex George comes into the finish line Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, during the 28th annual Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival at Agri Park in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas' Alex George comes into the finish line Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, during the 28th annual Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival at Agri Park in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The distance between the campuses at Santa Clara University in California and Boston College in Massachusetts is nearly 48 hours by car.

The appearance of both schools in Fayetteville on Saturday shows the nationwide appeal of the annual Chile Pepper Festival at Agri Park. But the event also has a strong statewide appeal with cross country runners representing John Brown University, University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, Central Arkansas, Williams Baptist College and College of the Ozarks in addition to the host men's and women's team from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

29th annual Chile Pepper Festival

Agri Park course, Fayetteville

Saturday’s races

Chile Pepper 10K Open;7:15 a.m.

Chile Pepper 5K Open;8:45 a.m.

Men’s Collegiate 10K;9:30 a.m.

Women’s Collegiate 5K;10:20 a.m.

High school boys 5K;11 a.m.

High school girls 5K;11:30 a.m.

Boys Open 5K;12:15 p.m.

Girls Open 5K;1 p.m.

Junior boys 5K;1:45 p.m.

Junior girls 5K;2:30 p.m.

The Razorbacks are favored to win the 29th Chile Pepper Festival after sweeping the men's and women's events last year by wide margins.

"This is really the launching pad for our season," Arkansas men's Coach Chris Bucknam said. "We've had a couple of smaller meets where we didn't put our full team together. This race will help us get ready for the Pre-National meet in Louisville, which is a huge race, in a couple of weeks."

Alex George returns for Arkansas after winning the men's Division I championship at the Chile Pepper last season in a time of 23 minutes, 33.12 seconds. The Arkansas women will split its team with most running in the Chile Pepper Festival and a few others in a meet on Saturday at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Arkansas runners finished second, third, fourth, and fifth last year to easily win the home meet.

"We have exceptional depth this year," Arkansas women's Coach Lance Harter said. "The girls who are probably going to lead the charge for us here at Chile Pepper are Ashton Endsley, a super freshman from Texas, Sidney Brown, a sophomore, and Maddy Reed, another sophomore. We're putting the burden on their backs to kind of carry the torch for the Razorback fight."

The Chile Pepper Festival is much more than a college cross country meet. There are open events for non-collegiate athletes and boys and girls races that draw some of the top high school runners from around the region. Teams from Texas won last year's events but Fayetteville's Camren Fischer had a strong showing with his third-place finish in the boys' division. As a team Fayetteville finished fifth, highest among area's schools in the boys' division. Bentonville High came in 11th and Rogers High 12th. Bentonville finished fourth in the girls division ahead of Fayetteville, which finished eighth, and Rogers, which placed 16th.

"It depends on the competition, but I think Camren can definitely win it," Fayetteville Coach Michelle Fyfe said. "He's just got to run smart and run like he's been training. He'll be in the mix, for sure."

A majority of the Chile Pepper appeal is its community involvement and relationship with high school cross country programs throughout Northwest Arkansas. In 28 years, the Chile Pepper Festival has given over $500,000 to those programs, including $58,000 that was distributed last year. This year, the Chile Pepper and its sponsors have made a one-time commitment to distribute up to $20,000 to local junior high programs.

"We feel like growing the sport at the grass root level is important," said Jay Lewis, race director and a board member of the Chili Pepper Festival. "People can run and enjoy running into their 60s. We want to get kids running early, so they'll stick with it in high school and, possibly, in their lives after high school."


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