More than 100 Osseo High School cross-country running alumni and their families — including legendary Maple Grove coach Jim Deane and writer-comedian Kevin Kling — will descend on Elm Creek Park Reserve on Saturday for a 50th annual alumni race.
Event organizers say it's the longest-running race of its kind in Minnesota. The first-ever meet, which has pitted current varsity runners against alumni old and young for five decades, was held in 1963 at Lake Nokomis after Deane hatched the idea as a way to keep up continuity in the program.
"Over the years, we've had some pretty outstanding runners run in the meet, and as the event grew, it gave kids an opportunity to see the face of somebody they've only heard about," said Deane, who coached at Osseo for 43 years, including an impressive run of state appearances during the 1970s and '80s. "It introduces past to present, and I think that's a big plus for everyone involved."
In addition to his decades spent coaching, Deane also served as the mayor of Maple Grove from 1981 to 1994 and as a member of the Three Rivers Park District board. His influence on the community is obvious — people attending Saturday's festivities may notice the street leading into Elm Creek Park is named James Deane Parkway.
"[Deane] was a great mentor and a big part of a lot of guys' lives. I mean, he expected you to work hard, but as long as you worked hard at running, he was great," said Mick Stevens, a member of the class of 1977 and one of the event organizers.
Deane isn't the only recognizable name expected to be in attendance on Saturday.
Kling has put together a short presentation based on memories from his time on the team, which he will perform Saturday night at the Osseo American Legion. Kling was on the team from 1972 to '75 and continued to run through the 1990s, completing Grandma's Marathon six times during the decade.
He has many fond memories from running with the team, including packed bus rides "full of singing and laughter," canoe trips and snowshoe races organized by Deane.
"[I remember] lots of laughing and hard work; [Deane] proved they are not mutually exclusive. You couldn't get away with anything, but we were encouraged to try anyway," Kling wrote in an e-mail.
Fun, but also competitive
Other former Osseo cross-country coaches Ken Rasmussen and Matt Ferry will be there, as well as Dick Aften, who went on to serve as captain of the 1967 University of Minnesota cross-country squad after excelling at Osseo.
Although the race is considered informal and fun, at the front of the pack it can get competitive. Dave Chatelaine, an alumnus who also went on to run for the University of Minnesota and currently coaches cross-country at Owatonna, has won the race at least 10 times, and an alum has won the race every year since at least the mid-'70s, according to Deane.
Perhaps the well-known staple of the alumni race won't be found anywhere near the leaderboard. Ray Vickery, 68, has competed in nearly every race since its inception. Year after year he returns to say hello to old friends and slog through another race, usually bringing up the rear.
"To me, [Vickery] is really a testament to the power and impact the program has had on so many people throughout the years," said Ferry.