Chile Pepper Festival set for Saturday; Charity event donates $42,000 to 7 NWA prep cross country programs

Fayetteville High cross country coach Michelle Fyfe accepts a check for $6,000 from Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival board member and former Razorback All-American and NCAA Cross Country champion Reuben Reina. The 25th Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival will be held Saturday at the University of Arkansas Cross Country Course at Agri Park off Highway 112. Races begin at 7:30 a.m. Each year proceeds from the event equally benefit the cross country programs at Fayetteville, Springdale, Har-Ber, Heritage, Rogers, Siloam Springs and Bentonville high schools.

Photo: Terry J. Wood.

Area high school coaches not only look forward to the annual Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival for the competition but also for the charity event’s generosity.

The Chile Pepper Festival Board of Directors divided $42,000 in proceeds from last year’s event equally among the cross country programs of Fayetteville, Springdale, Har-Ber, Siloam Springs, Rogers, Heritage and Bentonville high schools Tuesday at a news conference at Jose’s Mexican Restaurant. Each program received a check for $6,000.

The 25th Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival begins at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Agri Park, off Highway 112. More than 10,000 are expected to attend the event with 5,000 runners competing in 10 races.

Both Arkansas men’s and women’s cross country teams will compete in the collegiate races for the first time in a number of years. The event’s Open 10K amateur race serves as this year’s Arkansas State Cross Country Championship for the Road Runners Club of America.

Fayetteville cross country coach Michelle Fyfe said her athletes benefitted from last year’s donation with new warm-ups as well as the opportunity to travel to more events than would have been possible without the infusion of funds.

“This donation every year literally keeps our programs running the way they do,” Bentonville cross country coach Randy Ramaker said. “There are some great coaches heading up these programs, but it’s this race and the donations that we receive that makes Northwest Arkansas a hotbed for cross country on the high school level. It’s not a coincidence that five of the state’s top six boys programs and five of the top seven girls programs benefit from the Chile Pepper Festival.”

Rogers coach Carlton Efurd backed up Ramaker’s statement saying that the $6,000 check his program received Tuesday more than doubled his program’s annual budget.

25th Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival

When: Saturday, October 5th
Location: Arkansas Cross Country Course, Agri Park

Local restaurateur Joe Fennel and Randy Rhine created the event in 1988 to help benefit area high school cross country programs when they learned from former Fayetteville High cross country coach Kelly O’Meara that his yearly budget consisted of $100.

The event started as a 10K amateur race, but in 1992, the Chile Pepper Board convinced the University of Arkansas and Fayetteville High to hold their annual invitational meets in conjunction with the 10K to grow the event into a festival.

Arkansas women’s cross country coach Lance Harter, whose No. 9 squad is led by Grace Heysmefield of Elkins, said he fully supported the event.

“I’m so proud to be involved in this event that gives to local high school programs,” Harter said. “It really is a showcase for them and this area. Those programs have helped both of [Arkansas’] programs over the years with depth, and it’s also helped us with recruiting kids from other areas that come here to compete.”

Arkansas men’s cross country coach Chris Bucknam said his No. 6 squad hasn’t been challenged yet, but he is ready to unleash then in full force for the race.

“We really appreciate this event and the board moving the date up to help us with our scheduling and for making it an 8K race for the men,” Bucknam said. “We’re excited to be running in front of our fans.”

Fyfe said the Lady Bulldogs’ goal was to finish among the top three Arkansas programs in the meet, which regularly draws outstanding programs and individuals from Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma and other states.

She added that her boy’s squad is a young group that can pick up invaluable experience in the meet as well.

Amanda Agana, who ranked 13th nationally last year leads the Lady Bulldogs, but added that sophomore Carly Page runs just behind her in workouts.

Chile Pepper Race Day Schedule

General Public / Individuals
7:30 a.m. – Chile Pepper Open 10K
9 a.m. – Chile Pepper Open 5K
9:30 a.m. – Awards – Chile Pepper Open 10K 9:05 a.m., 5K Open
College / Open
9:45 a.m. – Men’s Collegiate (8K)
10:20 a.m. – Women’s Collegiate (5K)
11:10 a.m. – Awards – Collegiate Men and Women
High School & Junior High
11 a.m. – Senior High Boy’s Invitational (5K)
11:30 a.m. – Senior High Girl’s Invitational (5K)
12:15 pm. – Senior High Boy’s Open (5K)
1 p.m. – Junior High Boys (5K)
1:45 p.m. – Senior High Girl’s Open (5K)
2:30 p.m. – Junior High Girls (5K)
3:15 p.m. – Awards – Senior and Junior High School