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With long-running Milaca meet called off, Grand Forks cross country coaches aiming to jump at opportunity

The Milaca Mega Meet celebrated a 50-year run last year but a conflict with the golf course site led to the meet cancellation. Grand Forks coaches want to fill that void.

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High school runners sprint down the course at Lincoln Park during a 2018 varsity girls race at the Grand Forks Invitational.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Sean Allan and Richard Dafoe — Grand Forks high school cross country coaches — have talked for years about the possibility of a Border Battle race, where teams from surrounding states and even Canada could come to Grand Forks to compete against one another.

This summer, when the Milaca Mega Meet — one of the area's biggest races of the season — called off its event due to a conflict with its golf course host, Allan and Dafoe jumped at the opportunity to fill the void.

"We looked at our schedule and wondered where we could go find a race," said Dafoe, who coaches Grand Forks Red River. "That was kind of our ah-hah. Instead of trying to find one, let's make our own. What (Milaca Mega Meet) has done is cool and good and people gravitated to it. We're trying to create that similar experience — a festival of cross country."

And at that, the first annual Border Battle in Grand Forks was born. The meet is scheduled for Sept. 24.

The Milaca Mega Meet, which Grand Forks had participated in for roughly the last 15 years, confirmed the meet was off on its Facebook page on July 18.

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"It is with a heavy heart that we have to say that we will not be able to host the Milaca Mega Meet this year," the post said. "There is a conflict with our usual site in Milaca and we will not be able to use the course. We have not been able to secure a different site. Due to the size of the meet, it is difficult to host it on a golf course so that has been an issue as we looked for alternatives.

"We are disappointed and frustrated but hope an alternative site can be found in the future."

The Milaca Mega Meet, which celebrated its 50th race last year, has brought together 150 teams and 5,900 runners annually, the meet website claims.

Allan, who coaches at Grand Forks Central, said Grand Forks already has 20 teams signed up for the Border Battle event.

Increasingly over the last few years, golf courses have started to not allow cross country meets due to the damage to the course a meet can cause. North Dakota State recently had to call off a home meet due to a conflict at Rose Creek Golf Course.

"Fargo no longer has a site that can host a conference meet," Dafoe said. "As big of a city as it is between high schools and college, you can't host a cross country meet in Fargo anymore."

Dafoe said the three most viable sites in North Dakota for hosting large meets — because they aren't on a golf course — are now Jamestown, Bismarck and Grand Forks.

Grand Forks coaches say they're fortunate to have a course at Lincoln Park, where runners travel through a disc golf course, which doesn't hold the same concerns of damaged grass as traditional golf courses.

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"We have set this course up to be fast," Allan said. "It has big turns and no bottlenecks. It's a course meant for athlete to go fast, and it's super spectator-friendly. Parents and coaches can literally walk and see their athletes six, seven, eight times without running. Not every place is able to boast that."

The Grand Forks organizers are hoping to reach 50 teams in the first year of the event.

"We're bringing in food trucks and music and a stand for awards ... we're making this a festival. It's not just the racing. We want the athletes to say, 'that was fun.'"

Allan said the event will be a building process, as some schools in South Dakota, Minnesota and Canada sign contracts for events.

"We won't have 100 teams our first year, but we're getting the word out there," Allan said. "Went want to put on a great meet and everyone can go home and tell people how fun it was."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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