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Martinez: Hudson’s Bay cross country coach Tom Petersen retires with pleasant memories of Run-A-Rees past

High school sports

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published:
12 Photos
Cross Country runner fly over a steeple into a water pit during the running of the 51st Annual Run-A-Ree Friday September 7, 2012 in Vancouver, Washington.
Cross Country runner fly over a steeple into a water pit during the running of the 51st Annual Run-A-Ree Friday September 7, 2012 in Vancouver, Washington. (Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Two years ago, Tom Petersen had a problem.

The longtime Hudson’s Bay cross country coach was getting ready for the annual Steve Maas Run-A-Ree meet when he found construction equipment blocking key parts of the course.

Bay’s new athletic field was under construction, which had faced delays that summer. When Petersen spoke with the construction foreman, he didn’t get the response he had hoped.

“He said ‘Well, I guess you’re going to have to cancel,’ ” Petersen said. “And I was like ‘Cancel?!? This thing has been going for 57 years running!’ So he says ‘Well, I guess you can’t cancel.’ ”

The two worked out a solution, and the race went just as it had every September since 1961. Steve Maas’ name was later added to the Run-A-Ree to honor the Bay graduate who was killed in a military helicopter crash in 1973.

The race endured year after year, surviving smoke from gorge fires in 2017 as well as multiple days with temperatures near 100 degrees.

“A couple of years ago, we had to call an ambulance for kids who became overheated,” Petersen said. “We’ve had to take more precautions since then.”

But the Run-A-Ree met its match in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped the entire fall cross country season. But even if the fall season has been allowed to continue, it’s likely the Run-A-Ree would not have been held as schedule last Friday.

“That’s what I texted my coaches,” Petersen said. “There’s no way we would have been running with all this smoke.”

But that wasn’t the only message Petersen sent to his coaches last week.

After several months of deliberation, last week Petersen notified Bay athletic director Greg Roberts that he was retiring as cross country coach after 25 seasons. Petersen had previously retired as Bay’s boys track and field coach in the spring of 2019.

“I decided it was time to stop thinking with my heart and start thinking with my head,” said Petersen, 66. “At my age, I’m in that high-risk group. It just didn’t seem wise to be around the kids, taking long bus rides and being outside in the weather, especially if the season was going to be held in March.”

Cross country is now slotted into Season 3 of the WIAA’s revised 2020-21 calendar, which runs in March and April.

When Petersen took over the Bay cross country program in 1995, the Run-A-Ree consisted of five teams. Last year, it had grown to 33 high school teams and 15 middle schools, putting more than 1,200 runners on the course.

“I’m really proud of how we were able to grow the meet,” Petersen said. “It’s led to some problems, but they are good problems to have.”

Along with the bigger meet have come some very talented runners.

“That first year, we had a kid – Shawn Beitelspacher — break the course record, and I remember thinking that record would stand for a long time,” Petersen said. “He ran 16 minutes and won by 45 seconds. But every year, we’d have kids come in who were just getting faster and faster.”

Petersen recalled names like Evergreen’s Paul Limpft, Battle Ground’s Brian Conrath and Skyview’s Matt Moncur. On the girls side, he recalled Hockinson’s Sarah and Shannon Porter, as well as Skyview’s Ana Cabrera, who is now the anchor of the weekend primetime edition of CNN Newsroom.

“Every time I see her on TV, I think ‘I know her. She won the Run-A-Ree a couple of times,’ ” Petersen said.

But a favorite memory came in the 2011 race when Camas’ Alexa Efraimson and Union’s Alexis Fuller made their high school cross country debuts at the Run-A-Ree.

“They went neck-and-neck the whole race,” Petersen said. “Then at the finish (Fuller) made this dive for the line. So we gave the win to her. Little did we know that would be the last time Efraimson would lose a high school race (in Southwest Washington).”

Efraimson would go on to be a three-time All-Region cross country runner of the year, the 2013 Nike Cross Nationals champion and the 2013 Gatorade national girls cross country runner of the year.

When Efraimson skipped her senior cross country season to start her professional career, Fuller was the 2014 All-Region runner of the year and would go on to standout career at Boise State.

They were just two of scores of college standouts who kicked off a high school cross country season at the Run-A-Ree.

“It’s that traditional season-opening meet for Southwest Washington,” he said. “It’s a meet that can really tell you how good your team can be and what you need to work on.”

But he is unsure if the meet will be part of the season in the spring.

“That will be up to the next coaches,” said Petersen, who expects Eric Saueracker and Jamie Gonzales to lead the program. “But if it were up to me, I’d be leaning toward not holding it next spring. It wouldn’t be the same. Our water obstacle is such signature part of our race. It’s what the kids really look forward to. And I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to have kids doing cannonballs when it’s 30 degrees outside.”

When the Run-A-Ree returns to its normal spot on the fall calendar, don’t be surprised to see Petersen there.

“I’ll be there helping out,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned over the year is it takes a lot people to put on a meet like that. And I don’t think I could stay away.”

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