Coach Andy Christie, Coach Rick Wood, and Coach Daniel Monroe
Coach Rick Wood taught and coached at South Gwinnett High School from 1985-2000. A State Champion 3200m runner in high school in Tennessee (with a PR of 9:19), he ran at Furman University before having to stop due to a hamstring injury. Coach Wood took a South Gwinnett program that didn't have much running success and turned it into a perennial power. He coached the State 1600/3200m Champion Art Cantu in 1987, and then in 1991 the XC team went on a run of 5 straight years of State trophies in AAAA (then the highest classification), finishing 4th in 1991, winning in 1992, and 3rd place in 1993, 1994, and 1995. He coached Foot Locker Finalist Josh Crowfoot to state titles in XC in 1995 and 1996 (XC PR of 15:06) and state titles in the 1600/3200 in 1997. In his final season of coaching, he led the Track team to a Gwinnett County title. In his 15 years of coaching, he coached numerous state qualifiers in a myriad of events, had numerous All-County and All-State runners, and impacted even more students in the classroom (he was twice named Teacher of the Year). He retired from coaching in 2000 when he moved to Grayson High School and retired from teaching in 2018. He is a member of the Gwinnett County XC/Track Hall of Fame and has been recognized by the Atlanta Track Club several times. With the ability to inspire runners to do whatever they can to maximize their potential and lift up their team, Coach Wood has left his mark in the history of Gwinnett County and Georgia Cross Country and Track and Field.
From 'Back in the Day', Coach Crowfoot, Coach Wood, and Coach Christie
Teammates at South Gwinnett, Andy Christie, Daniel Monroe, and Josh Crowfoot all got into teaching and coaching. In 2003, Coach Christie (then at Dacula), Coach Crowfoot (then at Parkview), and Coach Monroe (then at South Gwinnett) thought it would be a cool idea to name a small weekday meet they had scheduled the 'Coach Wood Invitational'. An Invitation was extended to Coach Matt Johnson, who was at North Gwinnett at the time (and did his student teaching under Coach Wood and helped with the Track team) and the 4-way meet got its new name. Shirts were even ordered and it was held at Tribble Mill Park in Lawrenceville. Unfortunately, only the Varsity Boys were able to race that day, as a massive thunderstorm moved into the area. However, the idea stuck. Later that year, Dacula hosted the first year of their Falcon Invitational in October at Gainesville College, and the idea was hatched in 2004 to move the name of the Coach Wood Invitational to this late-season Invitational, and it has remained ever since.
The old Pavillion at the Gainesville College course (2008) photo by Bruce Taylor
The meet remained at Gainesville College (later renamed as a satellite campus of North Georgia) through the 2017 season, despite numerous changes to the course as a result of campus additions. What was often a quicker course soon turned into an average course which was sometimes lifted up due to the level of competition. The meet rose from a mid-level invitational to one that eventually became what some dubbed the unofficial All-Class State Meet since most top programs were in attendance. Reebok signed on as a sponsor first, and they were able to bring top tier athletes, including Nick Willis, who was fresh off his Olympic Medal performance in 2008 (and brought his medal to the meet!). Next Nike took over, and they were able to enhance the meet experience by bringing a tent with various activities for the runners, as well as impressive athletes, including Evan Jager, Shannon Rowbury, Eric Jenkins, and Andrew Wheating. New Balance eventually inherited the meet and was able to provide stellar awards such as autographed pictures and posters by Emma Coburn. The financial havoc caused by Covid prevented New Balance from being a sponsor in 2020 but hopefully, next year will bring back their sponsorship. One constant sponsor for over 10 years has been Fleet Feet. Fleet Feet has helped provide the ever-popular meet shirts, as well as other apparel. Both with the meet and with their various stores, they continue to do a lot for the high school running community.
Back in 2009, Katie Christie said that with the number of teams/people that attended the meet, we should do something to give back to others. Coach Wood suggested the Southeast Gwinnett Co-Op (https://www.segwinnettcoop.org). In 2012 it was renamed the Hope and Hoppines Canned Food Drive, after the late Tajay Hoppines, former Mill Creek runner, and the late Hope McKenzie, daughter of Gwinnett XC Hall of Fame member Willie McKenzie. At first, we just collected canned goods and then donated them. Around 2015, to encourage even more participation, it became a team competition, with the team that contributed the most cans winning their own portajohn for the meet the next year. The Cross Country community is very caring and compassionate, and the goal of the meet is to pay it forward.
In 2018, due to more changes, the meet was moved to McIntosh Nature Reserve in Whitesburg. While some teams had to travel farther, the trade-off was lightning fast times for the 5k course. That first year necessitated a slightly different configuration than other invitationals that had been held there, due to some flooding that happened the week of the meet. The course cut into the field a little more, instead of strictly staying on the perimeter. Feedback from coaches and runners post-race showed that they liked these changes better than staying on the outside, and the same configuration was used in 2019 (and is planned for this year as well).
The course is pancake flat and basically a grass track. It is a 2 loop course, with the 2 cut-ins providing some variation, instead of just running 2 loops of the perimeter. With 2 boys breaking 15 and 3 girls breaking 18 in 2019, 2020 looks to be another fast year, with many elite runners in attendance.
|2017||Jacob McLeod||Trinity Christian||15:23.72|
|2016||Jacob McLeod||Trinity Christian||15:30.23|
|2013||Austin Sprague||St. Pius X||15:54.48|
|2012||Austin Sprague||St. Pius X||15:44.17|
|2011||Josh Brickell||Peachtree Ridge||15:57.50|
|2010||Brendan Hoban||St. Pius X||15:35.00|
|2008||Taylor Lord||Chapel Hill||15:37.09|
|2003||Ryley Miller||South Gwinnett|
|2019||Morgan Vaden||St. Pius X||17:43.40|
|2018||Jackie Addy||Holy Innocents||17:49.32|
|2017||Erin Leonard||Jones County||18:43.93|
|2012||Allie Buchalski||Johns Creek||18:02.91|
|2011||Chloe Whitworth||Collins Hill||19:11.10|
|2010||Anna Bowles||Lakeside Evans||18:16.30|
|2009||Nicky Akande||Collins Hill||18:51.15|
|2008||Amanda Winslow||Collins Hill||17:31.69|
|2003||Storm cancelled race|