WORTHINGTON — They stood in the shade of the trees outside the front doors of Worthington High School on Monday afternoon, waiting to start their practice run. Head coach Cory Smidt cracked jokes.
Smidt may not be the funniest coach around, but he knows how to put his cross country riders at ease. Perhaps the relaxed mood of the Trojans has something to do with the fact that the college boys are once again one of the most beloved groups in the state.
That – and the fact that they like to run, and also that they never seem satisfied.
The Trojans placed sixth in the 2021 Minnesota Class AA State Meet, and they want to do better this year.
“This year we want to be first,” said elder Mikele Walu.
Saïd Smidt: “They are very dedicated, they work extremely hard and they like to have fun. They don’t get too nervous. They are always ready to go. They don’t like to back down, and whatever we do in training, they always want to do more.
It’s a huge week for Worthington running events. The high school boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams, after competing Tuesday in Marshall, awaited their biggest regular-season meet of the year, the annual Turkey Trot race at the old Worthington Prairie View golf course. On Saturday, the 43rd annual King Turkey Day 10k race begins around 9 a.m. in downtown Worthington.
The first 10 km race was held in 1980 with 101 runners. Organized by a handful of dedicated local racing enthusiasts who called themselves the Okabena Bay Area Striders, the event has since hosted an average of 500 to 600 competitors, peaking in 1997 with 711 at the start.
Many 10K enthusiasts return regularly, sometimes traveling long distances to get to Worthington. They love the spirit of the race, what they call a good community atmosphere enhanced by a beautiful race course and dedicated and helpful volunteers who cheer them on.
Over the years, there have been too many outstanding KTD 10K competitors to count. But one of them, Jerrold Wynia – a native of northwest Iowa and an American and national champion distance runner at Dordt University – will not be forgotten. Wynia ran the race in 29:37 in 1983 to set a record that still stands today.
The globe journalist Scott Mansch recently cited Wynia for an overview of the race’s history. “I have always enjoyed the event. It was such a beautiful course, looping around the lake, and the people around the course and the music always stood out,” said Wynia, who now lives in Beresford, SD
Thursday’s 2022 Turkey Trot race will feature teams from Worthington, Adrian/Ellsworth, Fairmont, Heron Lake-Okabena, Murray County Central/Fulda, Pipestone Area, St. James Area, Wabasso and Windom Area. The boys’ favorites are very clearly Trojans.
Walu, who ran a 16.09.5 last weekend at the prestigious Hartland Preview in Sioux Falls, SD, to finish seventh overall there, believes the team’s dedicated summer racing is paying off today. Personal bests have plummeted and teammates still remember to cheer each other on in practices and games.
During encounters, Walu said, Trojans try to run in packs while encouraging those who are starting to work. In practices, they do the same, remembering that running hard after school helps improve meet times.
Walu said the Turkey Trot is an important race.
“It’s very important. It’s our only home meeting we have. People come out to watch us, our friends,” he explained.
“We have home-court advantage, and we always do well there,” Smidt said of the treeless Prairie View site. .”
Smidt is a happy coach these days. His women’s team is improving.
“They really surprised me,” he said.
And the boys’ team, alone, reaches the heights.
“We want to improve on where we were last year,” Smidt said. “I think our kids have the mindset they can do.”