Prep runners to compete and celebrate Mass this weekend at Michigan Catholic Invitational

Lansing Catholic’s boys are the five-time defending champions of the Michigan Catholic Cross-Country Invitational, keeping the “Bishop’s Cup” in their trophy case since 2014. (Photo courtesy of Lansing Catholic Track and Cross Country)

Mid-Michigan meet combines faith and fitness for student-athletes from across the state

WARREN — In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he instructs his readers to “run so as to win.” But that’s not always the method cross country coaches bring to the Michigan Catholic Cross-Country Invitational, this Saturday at the St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt.

“We don’t necessarily approach it trying to win the meet — we’re looking to have a good effort and something to build upon,” Warren Regina coach Gregg Golden said. “We’ve been fortunate a couple of times that things have fallen our way. We’ve won it three times, and it’s a big treat when you can win a meet against some strong competition.”

“I don’t say, ‘You have to win it,’ but they try to do well. They know if they run like they’re capable of, they will be in contention, and that motivates them,” said meet director Tim Simpson, who coaches the squads at Lansing Catholic, the host school and five-time defending champion on the boys’ side.

This early-season meet — now in its 14th year — brings together Catholic teams from across Michigan (and this year, for the first time, another from Toledo), competing for the “Bishop’s Cup,” an 18-inch etched crystal trophy that remains in the hands of the winners until another school can defeat them.

“We put on the event, and the kids on the team know what it’s all about,” Simpson said. “We didn’t win it for the first few years we were in it, but it’s since become a big deal to us.”

Lansing Catholic’s Jaden Theis crosses the finish line in 17:25.2, setting a new girls’ course record at last year’s Michigan Catholic Cross-Country Invitational. (Photo Courtesy of Lansing Catholic Track and Cross Country/Special to the Detroit Catholic)

“We’ve gone every year they’ve had it; we’re very pleased with it,” said Golden, whose team last won the Bishop’s Cup in 2013. “It takes us a little more than an hour and a half to get there, but it’s worth it. It’s always a highlight of our year. Tim and his staff do an outstanding job.”

Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the Michigan Catholic meet is more than just another weekend invitational. For one thing, participating teams are able to reserve space and stay on the grounds Friday night.

“We try to take advantage of the overnight experience,” Golden said. “It’s really been a great team bonding experience for us. We take some kids who might not be running at all, but they get to be part of the team experience and see how the seniors act and carry themselves, and that goes a long way. The other thing is the sportsmanship part — everyone is tremendous; we’ve never had a bad experience there.”

Simpson’s squad is also pretty familiar with the 95-acre complex. “We have a camp there at the start of the year, and all of our kids go to that retreat center for school or confirmation retreats, so they associate it with good things,” he said.

The Michigan Catholic Invitational might also be the only prep race that in the state that incorporates a Mass for 500 student-athletes on site. While different priests have celebrated Mass from year to year, their homilies are usually running-related, including familiar tenets as pressing on toward the goal, running in the path of the Lord’s commands, or running with endurance the race that God has set before them.

“That’s big for our team,” Golden said. “There are a couple Masses that we have at school, but we have people coming from all over the Metro area, so it’s not always possible to go to Mass as a team. At this meet, it’s nice to be able to do that and promote the sisterhood of the team and the school.”

Seventeen schools have entered Saturday’s race, including Regina, Birmingham Marian, Clarkston Everest Collegiate, Dearborn Divine Child, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Novi Detroit Catholic Central, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, University of Detroit-Jesuit and Warren De La Salle from the Metro Detroit area. This will be Marian’s first time participating.

Dearborn Divine Child’s Anthony Hancock won the 2018 Michigan Catholic Cross-Country Invitational, covering the 5-kilometer race in 16:08.8. (Photo by Wright Wilson/Special to the Detroit Catholic)

The rest of the field is filled by outstate Catholic high schools, including from the Grand Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo and Lansing areas. Toledo Central Catholic has entered the meet for the first time.

“It’s nice we get to see many of the other Catholic schools in the state. We’re familiar with the Detroit Catholic League, and there’s a really competitive field,” Golden said. “The competition is pretty fierce out there, and we look forward to that. It’s fun to be able to mingle with these other teams really early in the year.”

“There’s quite a good group of good coaches who have been there numerous times, and they understand that it’s more than just a cross-country race,” Simpson said. “It’s a great start to the season, and it shows the kids that there’s more to it than just racing.”

The Lansing Catholic boys and the Divine Child girls won the 2018 Bishop’s Cups. Individually, both winners return: Divine Child’s Anthony Hancock (16:08) and Lansing Catholic’s Jaden Theis (a course-record 17:25), who is also the girls reigning Division 2 state champion.

The boys meet record of 15:59.2 was set by Lansing Catholic’s Keenan Rebera in 2014. He won the Michigan Catholic Invitational three times and became a two-time state champion.