While certainly the pandemic created a much more subdued 19th annual Festival of Champions high school cross-country meet on Saturday, Oct. 3 at Troy Howard Middle School, the spirit of the event was not completely dampened as student-athletes from 10 schools made their much anticipated, appointed treks across the leaf-strewn course amid spectacular fall colors.

Despite the lack of spectators — the event usually draws hundreds of fans and runners — the festival of distance running proved a rousing success in the face of COVID-19 safety protocols, which included face coverings, social distancing and races that began in waves over the 5-kilometer, or 3.1-mile, course.

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This year, Belfast, Brewer, Bangor, Hampden Academy, Orono, George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, Bucksport, Ellsworth and Old Town participated.

Why those 10 teams? Well, those were the only schools that have participated in the event each year since its start in 2001. They are, in fact, the originals.

Typically, Midcoast runners from Camden Hills of Rockport, Medomak Valley of Waldoboro, Oceanside of Rockland, Searsport and Islesboro also participate in the event, but not this year.

The festival typically attracts 50 to 75 schools and 1,500 young runners from New England and Canada who look to test their mettle and late-season form. That was not possible this year due to COVID-19.

This year, in light of pandemic safety protocols, the event featured about 140 runners.

Belfast and Brewer again were co-hosts of the event, known for his loud, upbeat music, festive atmosphere, elite teenage distance runners and tons of fans. However, this year, no spectators were allowed on site. There were no concessions and no building access, with porta-potties brought in for those who needed restroom access.

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

In order to comply with the state’s ordinance of no more than 100 people for outdoor events, the girls runners congregated on the track at Belfast Area High School and were bused to THMS at the conclusion of the boys race.

Team tents, typically closer in proximity, were at least 20 feet apart to ensure safe social distancing.

The starting line also had a different look. Typically, each school's runners have their own “box” to wait in at the starting line. However this year, races were run in two waves, one minute apart.

Race personnel and volunteers wore masks for the event. Runners also were masked in all situations other than while competing in the race.

In the end, on Saturday, Bangor’s Erin McCarthy won the 62-runner girls race in 19:21.55, with a 6:13.9 mile pace, while Hampden Academy’s Abbott Valentine was first in the 66-runner boys race at 16:05.37, and a 5:10.8 mile pace.

Bangor finished first in the team competitions.

Belfast saw its girls place ninth and boys seventh. The top Lion individuals were Juniper Fowler in 13th at 21:58.96, and a 7:04.6 mile pace, while Miles Cannon finished seventh in 17:22.49, with a 5:35.6 mile pace.

The girls team scores were: Bangor 40, Mount Desert Island 69, George Stevens Academy 111, Orono 125, Brewer 128, Old Town 148, Hampden Academy 154, Ellsworth 174 and Belfast 197. Bangor put its five scoring runners in the first, sixth, eighth, ninth and 16th spots, with a total time of 1:45:05.42 and average individual time of 21:01.09.

The boys team scores were: Bangor 45, Hampden Academy 66, Mount Desert Island 73, Orono 129, Brewer 162, George Stevens Academy 168, Belfast 171, Old Town 182, Bucksport 190 and Ellsworth 220. Bangor put its five scoring runners in the second, third, fifth, 17th and 18th spots, with a total time of 1:26:06.85 and average individual time of 17:13.37.

The individual Belfast girls results were: 13, Juniper Fowler, 21:58.96; 35, Jordan Kulbe, 24:38.69; 42, Lilly Robbins, 25:37.30; 56, Lillie Mitchell, 28:41.49; and 57, Cora Littlefield, 29:04.21.

The individual Belfast boys results were: 7, Miles Cannon, 17:22.49; 30, Eamon Goscinski, 19:10.60; 36, Wesley Dyer, 19:25.76; 47, Pietro Bacconi, 20:19.51; 51, LaDerrick Roberts, 20:36.99; 52, Zachary Armstrong, 20:37.31; and 57, Gabe Kelley, 21:26.05.