Center Hill cross country coach J.J. Downs (center) is joined by Mustang runners Andrew Ashley, Hajjia Mohammed, Jamyah Graham and Abigail Penfield. Center Hill is the host school for Saturday’s Odis McCord DeSoto County cross country championships, set to start at 9:30 a.m.

Bob Bakken|DTT

This Saturday, cross country teams representing the eight DeSoto County public high schools will run on the roads surrounding Center Hill High School in the eighth annual event now known as the Odis McCord DeSoto County championships. 

"It used to be the old Chickasaw Conference meet, because, not only did we have DeSoto County schools in it, but we also had South Panola, North Panola, Holly Springs and those teams in it,” said meet organizer and Center Hill cross country coach J.J. Downs. “But, none of them would ever come to the meet because they didn't have cross country. When Odis (McCord) passed away, we decided to name it after him. It's kind of evolved and developed into the DeSoto County championships."

This will be the third meet run in honor of McCord, who was the long-time Southaven High School coach and athletic director. McCord died four years ago from cancer at the age pf 65.

A softball tournament and the football game between DeSoto Central and Southaven are also named for McCord.

For the first time, the meet will be held on Saturday. In previous years, a Tuesday afternoon close to the regional meet was the date for the event.

The girls’ run will take place at 9:30 a.m., followed by the boys’ event at 10:15 a.m., said Downs, adding, "A lot of parents couldn't make it here by four o'clock (Tuesday afternoon), so it just became time to move it to a Saturday.”

Andrew Ashley, a junior on the Mustangs’ boys team whose personal best time for five kilometers is 19:18, is looking forward to Saturday’s meet.

"I think it's some great competition to see what we're going to get in Saltillo (regionals) and at state,” Ashley said.

"It's pretty important because we're running against our home schools,” added senior Hajjia Mohammed, one of the leaders on the girls’ team with a personal best time of 24:13.

One of the benefits of a DeSoto County event is not having to travel. Most of the meets are held outside the county, as the shortest distance is for a series of non-scored runs at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis with the West Tennessee Cross Country League.

"We're always traveling, every school travels in DeSoto County, so this is a chance to come here and run in front of our fans,” Downs said.

“It’s really important,” said Jamyah Graham, another junior on the Lady Mustangs. “It's here at Center Hill, so I'm going to have a lot of support and family here cheering me on."

One of the unique features of Saturday’s race is that it will be on the road. Most cross country meets are typically held in parks or on golf courses. It may be tough on the feet, but Downs expects some good times.

"It's a road race on a flat surface where the kids can run fast,” Downs said. “It's a real good parameter for me to see where we stack up against the MHSAA 6A schools in our county.”

It’s also going to be the last meet for Downs to organize, as he plans to step down from coaching at the end of the school year after nine years as cross country and track coach.

“I think it's really important because it's at Center Hill and I really want to represent our school well and do my best and make them proud,” said sophomore runner Abigail Penfield.

Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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