If there is one word to describe the 2019 Swain Invitational, it must be “mud.”
Heavy rains soaked Enger Park Golf Course overnight and throughout the day Oct. 5, 2019, turning the course into a slippery, muddy mess for runners to negotiate.
Cloquet’s Jordan Allen was running with the front pack during the boys Class AA cross-country race. As he made a turn on the first lap of the race, he hit a particularly nasty spot and slipped to the ground.
Instead of settling for finishing the race and letting the leaders go, Allen gathered himself and chased down the pack. Not only did he chase down the pack, he challenged eventual winner Max Charlsen of Forest Lake for the win.
Allen finished the race in 17 minutes, 54.8 seconds, just three tenths of a second behind Charlsen.
Allen, now a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, was unable to talk Friday, Aug. 27.
Allen was the top local finisher at what will go down in history as the last Swain Invitational meet. Members of the organizing committee are getting older and there was no one to step in and take over, according to former meet manager Kerry Louks.
“As a committee, we’ve been actively looking for other individuals or groups and just could get anyone to wrap their arms doing it,” Louks said. “It finally got to a point after years of trying to find one that I think COVID was just the catalyst to say I guess we can step away because we had to step away last year.”
Louks said 2019 was among the worst weather in the nearly 70-year history of the Swain. The only year that was worse was he could recall was many years ago when the meet was moved to Proctor because of construction at Enger Park.
One of Louks’ favorite memories was several years ago when an exchange student from Czechoslovakia was forced to run the junior varsity race because of Minnesota State High School League eligibility rules. As a runner who could have competed to win the varsity, he dominated the younger runners.
“He was so far in front, you could have had a sandwich between first and second place,” Louks said. “No doubt he could have won (the varsity race). It was just a training run for him, he was shaking out his arms at times and just kind of looking around.”
The meet began in 1951 and was named for former Duluth Central cross country coach John Swain. Central hosted the event for many years before the school closed in 2011, Duluth East cross country coach Dave Wicker said. At its peak, the Swain hosted 75 schools and typically hosted at least 65.
At one point, the Swain Invitational was one of the two or three biggest meets in the state, but the number of schools attending began to fall because of budget cuts and travel restrictions, particularly for Twin Cities schools.
“A number of schools continued to come up that had those travel restrictions, but they had to fundraise to pay the difference,” Louks said. That was kind of where the tide turned and we started losing some teams and the Milaca Mega Meet got much bigger.”
Wicker also worked with Louks and Gary Lepisto, the meet manager for the past 10 years, to organize the meet.
Instead of the unwieldy 65 or 70 team meet the Swain had become, Wicker intends to host the Lester Park Invitational Oct. 9, the same weekend the Swain traditionally occurred each year. The new meet will have 15 to 20 teams and run at the Lester Park Golf Course.
“Last year we hosted four of our seven meets out here,” Wicker said. ‘As a golfer who grew up working and playing out here, the best thing I can say about closing this golf course is we get to run on it — it’s great for that.”
This story originally contained a misspelling of Kerry Louks' name. It was updated at 1:35 p.m.. Aug. 30, with the proper spelling. The News Tribune regrets the error.