TSSAA girls state cross country championships on the Iroquois Steeplechase Course in Nashville’s Percy Warner Park
For many years, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) has conducted one of the nation’s top state cross country meets for both boys and girls.
With the boys starting in 1960 and the girls in 1975, one of the most unique and interesting aspects of it is the course on which it’s run.
Held annually at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, it is run on same course on which the Iroquois Steeplechase horse race is held each spring. The Steeplechase has been held there since 1941, with the exception of 1945 due to World War II. It is named for “Iroquois,” the first American-bred thoroughbred to win the prestigious British Epsom Derby.
Edwin and Percy Warner Parks, collectively known as “The Warner Parks,” are managed by the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation of Nashville and Davidson County. The Warner Parks are the largest municipally administered parks in Tennessee and together span 2,684 acres of forest and field, nine miles from downtown Nashville.
More than 500,000 people visit the Parks annually to utilize picnic areas, scenic roadways and overlooks, hiking trails, equestrian center and horse trails, cross country running courses, golf courses, athletic fields, and other areas of the park. Warner Parks is also an important historical community resource listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
"We are very fortunate to hold our cross country state championship event at Percy Warner Park on the same course on which the historic Iroquois Steeplechase is held,” said TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress. “It is a beautiful setting and a great course. It's been a great location for more than 40 years, and we hope to be there for many years to come."
In terms of team titles, Baylor, Oak Ridge and Webb School of Knoxville are in a three-way tie for most TSSAA boys cross country state championships with eight apiece. Franklin Road Academy holds the record for most consecutive boys state titles with four from 2000 to 2003.
TSSAA boys state cross country championships on the Iroquois Steeplechase Course in Nashville’s Percy Warner Park
Three boys have won a state-record three individual state titles apiece – Andrew Bumbalough of Brentwood Academy (2002 to 2004), Austin Weaver of Franklin Road Academy (1999 to 2001), and Jon Slaughter of McGavock/Antioch (1972 to 1974).
After being run on the two-mile Shelby Park course in Nashville from 1964 to 1969, the TSSAA moved the boys event to Two Rivers for one year (1970). It then moved to Percy Warner, where the TSSAA conducted the event on a three-mile course from 1971 to 2005, and subsequently went to a 5K course (also on Percy Warner) in 2006.
The best time recorded on that course was a 15:10.57 by Aaron Templeton of Hardin Valley in 2013. Templeton’s time is a healthy 26 seconds faster than the second-best performance on that same course – coincidentally also run in 2013.
Meanwhile, Harpeth Hall set the standard for most girls team state championships with 12. Baylor and Girls Preparatory share the runner-up spot with seven titles each.
University School JC set the record of five consecutive girls state titles from 2005 to 2009, while David Lipscomb and Harpeth Hall are tied for second with four consecutive each.
The girls race was first run from 1975 to 1977 on the Shelby Park 1.5-mile course, and then moved to the two-mile Percy Warner course from 1978 to 1982. That distance increased to three miles from 1983 to 1985, and then to a different three-mile course from 1986 to 2005, before settling into its current 5K course in 2006.
The record times for the first three courses, the runners, their respective schools and the years set are:
*Shelby Park 1.5-mile course - 8:02 – set by Tania Wells of Melrose in 1976
*Percy Warner two-mile course – 10:38 – set by Sloan Burton of Harpeth Hall in 1980
*Percy Warner three-mile course – 17:35 – set by Lesley Whitehead of Sullivan South in 1984
The record for the second Percy Warner three-mile course is held by Christy Baird of Knoxville West, who toured the course in 17:31 in 1996.
However, straddling the eras of the Percy Warner three-mile course and the Percy Warner 5K course was a runner who might be considered to be the best in state history – Kathy Kroeger of Independence.
As a mere freshman in 2005 (the three-mile course’s final year), Kroeger ran a 17:31.26 to top the runner-up finisher by 37.31 seconds en route to the state title. Kroger’s time places her roughly a quarter-second behind Baird’s course record time.
Kathy Kroeger after winning the 2008 TSSAA Class AAA state cross country championship
That precocious effort was a harbinger of great things to come for Kroeger, as she subsequently comfortably won the next three state titles on the Percy Warner 5K course, and in the process claimed three of the top five course times, including the top two.
As a sophomore in 2006, she cruised to a 16:59.45 to set the all-time record on that course. The following year, she ran a 17:57.90 to claim the No. 5 position, and as a senior, she turned in a 17:08.93 to give her the No. 2 spot. During those three years, her margins of victory over the respective runners-up were 1:06.52, :42.74 and 1:30.28.
With those four state titles from 2005 to 2008, she is the only runner – male or female - to claim four TSSAA state cross country championships. Seven other girls have won three apiece.
“I have great memories of racing at the Steeplechase course at Percy Warner Park,” Kroeger said. “Living within 15 miles of the park and racing there with my team several times each season allowed me to know it well. The terrain is mostly nice grass with some gradual uphill and downhill, but nothing particularly steep. The hardest part for me was always the slightly uphill gravel stretch from two to 2½ miles. At that point, you are pretty tired and you can see the finish just to the left, but you have to run uphill away from it to make the final loop of the course!”
A participant in soccer and swimming during her freshman and sophomore years, Kroeger decided midway though her sophomore year to focus solely on running.
“My parents were so supportive and gracious as they drove me to and from practices and games and cheered me on in everything that I pursued,” Kroeger recalled. “Distance running has always come naturally to me. Throughout high school and collegiate racing, I loved being able to push my limits and challenge myself. Whether I was running cross country or track, I almost always preferred the season I was currently in. So, in the fall I loved the simplicity of cross country and the small, close-knit team atmosphere. In the spring, I had fun with relays and racing on the precise, predictable loop of the track. Our track team improved significantly over my four years, and it was fun to cheer on teammates to success in a variety of events.”
Following her stellar high school career, Kroeger decided to cast her lot with Stanford (California) University, where she became a standout college distance runner and majored in mathematical and computational science and minored in human biology. Now working on a Ph.D. in epidemiology and clinical research there, earlier this year Kroeger married Aaron Holsteen, who holds a Ph.D. in material science.
No. 2870 Kathy Kroeger running for Stanford University
“I was attracted to Stanford because of the unique combination of excellent academic and athletic programs,” Kroeger explained. “I was excited to train with Coach Jason Dunn and to join the teammates I had gotten to know during my visit. And of course, the spectacular weather didn’t hurt. My parents were very supportive and encouraged me to take the opportunity, reach far and surround myself with people who would help challenge me and help me grow.
“I am so thankful for the experience of running for Stanford. I had excellent coaches and teammates who consistently supported me and challenged me to grow in maturity as an athlete and a person. In terms of racing, it was a bit of a roller-coaster as I alternated between enjoying successful seasons and battling various injuries. The most important and memorable aspects of my athletic experience are the strong friendships and personal growth developed over the years of training and racing with the team.”
In recognition of her many distance running achievements, Kroeger was inducted earlier this year into the Independence High School Hall of Fame.
“It was quite a surprise and an honor to be inducted into the IHS Hall of Fame,” Kroeger said. “I am grateful for all of the incredible support from the administration, coaches and teammates at Independence, and am proud of the great academic and athletic achievements they are making year after year.”
John Gillis is the associate director of development of the NFHS. If you have any comments or articles ideas, please forward them to Gillis at firstname.lastname@example.org