The 19th annual Festival of Champions, typically a precursor to the fanfare of conference, regional and state cross-country championship events and the largest high school sporting event in the Maine each fall, will be unlike any of its kind.

Scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 3 at Troy Howard Middle School, the Festival of Champions typically attracts 50 to 75 schools and 2,000 young runners from New England and Canada who look to test their mettle and late-season form.

This year, in light of protocol and in response to the ongoing effects of COVID-19, that event will feature 140 runners and 10 teams.

This year, Belfast, Brewer, Bangor, Hampden Academy, Orono, George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, Bucksport, Ellsworth and Old Town will be in the field.

Why those 10 teams? Well, those are the only schools that have participated in the event each year since its birth in 2001.

Typically, Midcoast runners from Camden Hills of Rockport, Medomak Valley of Waldoboro, Oceanside of Rockland, Searsport and Islesboro also participate in the event.

Belfast and Brewer are the co-hosts of the event, known for his upbeat, loud music, festive atmosphere and tons of fans. However, this year, no spectators will be allowed on site. There will be no concessions and no building access to THMS, with porta-potties being brought in for those needing restroom access.

"We wanted to provide the kids with something,” said Belfast cross-country coach Joann Nealey, now in her 22nd year. “And this is something and we hope to be back to our regular festival next year.”

The boys race will begin at 11 a.m., with the girls to follow at 2 p.m. Each school will have its top seven runners participate in the event.

In order to comply with the state’s ordinance of no more than 100 people for outdoor events, the girls teams will congregate on the track at Belfast Area High School and will be bused to Troy Howard Middle School at the conclusion of the boys race.

Team tents, which typically are closer in proximity, now must be at least 20 feet apart to ensure safe social distancing.

The starting line will have a different look as well.

Typically, each school's runners have their own “box” to wait in at the starting line. However this year, there will be a starting line with the races being run in two waves, one minute apart.

The top 35 runners will start at 11 a.m. — all six feet apart at the starting line — while the next 35 will await their opportunity to assume their position at the starting line on a secondary line some 10 feet back.

All race personnel and volunteers must wear masks for the event. Runners also must be masked in all situations other than competing in the race.

Nealey doesn’t expect many traffic jams cropping up on the course. She added all runners will have tags on their shoelaces, which log the runners' times at the finish line.

"The course is fairly wide,” she said. “It’s not like they’re narrow trails they’re running on.”

She said while it undoubtedly will have a different feel with no spectators on site, they plan to take this year’s event as seriously as ever not only to preserve the integrity of the event, but for the athletes who take part.

“We are responsible for the setup of the course,” said Nealey. “Henry Bouchard is my assistant coach. He works at the middle school and he’s been out there every day making sure the course looks great. We’re still going to do the flagging and everything to make sure the runners have a clear line for where they’re going. It’s a lot of people that come together to make this happen.”