At the second annual Saint Viator Cross Country Invitational on Aug. 19, the junior high runners from St. Thomas of Villanova in Palatine proved their mettle. Both their boys and girls teams successfully defended their titles and retained the heavy hardware, the Saint Viator Traveling Trophy.

Jason Kuffel, who helped bring the event to Saint Viator, said the event was successful on several levels, including its growing popularity. The pre-season invite drew nearly twice as many young runners as last year.

“It was an unbelievable day to be a Lion and a member of the Saint Viator High School Community,” says Jason Kuffel, director of recruitment. “The outpouring of thanks from parents, grandparents, coaches, athletes, and siblings was overwhelming.”

In all, the event drew nearly 482 youngsters from 15 different feeder schools in the surrounding suburbs. That’s nearly 200 more runners than last year and from three new feeder schools, located mostly in Lake County. They ran a course that stretched around the Saint Viator campus before returning inside the Boler Center for the awards ceremony.

Participating schools included: Our Lady of the Wayside and St. James schools in Arlington Heights, St. Mary School in Buffalo Grove, St. Alphonsus School in Prospect Heights, St. Gilbert School in Grayslake, St. Hubert School in Hoffman Estates, St. Emily and St. Raymond schools in Mount Prospect, St. Thomas of Villanova, St. Theresa and Immanuel Lutheran schools in Palatine, Sts. Peter and Paul in Cary, Frassato Academy in Mundelein, St. Francis de Sales in Lake Zurich, and St. Patrick in Wadsworth.

Members of the Saint Viator cross country team took a lead role in the event. Two members led each race, carrying the Saint Viator flag, while other students helped encourage runners around the course. Each runner wore a traditional cross country bib with a number and crossed the finish line in front of a crowd of parents and coaches.

“We pride ourselves on running a great event that showcases these young student athletes,” adds Mr. Kuffel, who also is an assistant boys’ lacrosse coach. “Our goal is simple: To make it fun, introduce cross country to new and young runners, and provide times for runners and their coaches at the beginning of their season, to work toward improving throughout the season.”

Mr. Kuffel adds that the event was designed as an opportunity for students to visit Saint Viator’s campus and meet student athletes and coaches.

“I think it created some team camaraderie early in the year,” he adds, “and went a long way toward giving these kids a chance to envision themselves as high school cross country runners.”