by Vittoria Meyer (photos by Shelby Gifford)
Minutes leading up to the men’s 8k race, the overcast day seems to suddenly ignite with a warm, yet comfortable heat as the runners border the start line. The blocks of various colors take over the width of the course as the runners line up with their teammates and competitors. At the cue, they take off and hundreds of spectators follow, dashing the course’s sidelines at an attempt to keep an eye on their favorite runners. This course, strategically built, is intended to be an experience for both the runner and the spectator and it surely shows here.
It’s known that the state of Indiana is the home for racing, but Indiana defends this title in more ways than just being the home of the Indy 500. The Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute gives the state this title just as much as the motor speedway. At the John McNichols Invitational, the momentum and adrenaline of a race that Hoosiers have grown to love is felt in the mere presence of the Cross Country Capital’s point of pride.
The crowds these cross country events attract to the region are stemmed from a deep-rooted enthusiasm and commitment that teams, such as Northern Arizona University and the University of Michigan, have for this unique, challenging and historic course, and the city who houses it.
University of Michigan Women’s Cross Country Head Coach, Mike McGuire, has been visiting LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course with his team since 1997. He uses the history of the course to educate his runners on the sport of cross country and the opportunity they have to compete on the turf of many other national champions.
“I emphasize to my runners that they are a part of something a lot bigger than themselves,” states McGuire.
Michael Smith, director of track and cross country at Northern Arizona University, points out that it’s not only the course that makes the trip to Indiana worthwhile, but the hospitality of the state, region and city that make the yearly trip an experience in and of itself.
“It is so nice to be here in Terre Haute and at the LaVern Gibson [Championship Cross Country] Course where cross country feels like a really big deal,” states Smith. “We know this is a place that loves cross country and always when you’re on the road you want to be as comfortable as possible and this is a place we feel at home.”
The thousands of people from all over the country attending the invitational are apparent from the diverse license plates pouring into the parking lots upon arrival. The long drive herding cars up the hill are lined with banners of past runners that have left their mark on the field, welcoming you, yet subtly reminding you that you’re entering a piece of sports history.
The John McNichols Invitational welcomes and invites teams from all over the country. Homegrown Hoosier schools such as Indiana State University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Indiana University, Depauw University, Purdue University, Hanover College, Oakland City, Indiana Wesleyan, IUPU, Franklin College, Wabash College, Valparaiso and Vincennes are all competing. The course is shared with nationally-ranked teams such as Northern Arizona University, the three time reigning NCAA Division l Champions, as well as Stanford, Iowa State, Eastern Michigan, Transylvania and Northern Colorado. At this invitational, a total of six races are held at the collegiate, high school and middle school levels, giving the day a diverse mix of skill and experience. The middle schoolers watch in awe at the high schoolers while the collegiate athletes cheer amongst the crowds during the middle school races. The support is steadfast amongst the 54 competing teams over the course of the weekend.
However, it’s not the sheer number of people and teams coming together for a weekend invitational that make it worth noting. It’s the common love of the sport celebrated by all in attendance and the visionary, Coach John McNichols, who crafted this love in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Coach McNichols, the longest tenured coach in Indiana State University’s history, possessed a knowledge and passion for the sport of cross country that shaped it into what it is today. His unwavering mentorship, sportsmanship and drive impacted all who knew him, and to honor his legacy, many of them gather back at his roots, the LaVern Gibson course, as runners, coaches or simply spectators during the John McNichols Invitational.
“John used to come here all the time for all hours of the day and do any work. No task was too small. He was involved in every aspect of the race. He administered everything. This is for him,” states David Patterson, executive director of the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau.
John’s legacy was shown in all regards of the sport. As the “master designer” for the course, his vision played out and has directly impacted the sport of cross country and the way tourism is viewed and catered to in Indiana. With over 40,000 people visiting the course every year, the region has adapted to this growth in order to warmly welcome visitors to Terre Haute.
Needless to say, the Lavern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course, Terre Haute and the state of Indiana are well-positioned to welcome visitors, far and wide. The growth of the tourism industry that the sport brings to the region is supported within the foundation of our retail, hospitality and tourism industries. Here in Indiana, we welcome the opportunity to showcase these regional assets.
The end of the race brings an outpour of runners advancing to the finish line all mingling together. The perfectly sorted teams found at the start line are now a mix of hues. The spectators are also racing but to the sidelines to find the next best view. The heightened adrenaline has lasted 23 minutes and counting, and the excitement has yet to subside. John McNichols certainly did craft quite the foundation for this sport that Terre Haute and Indiana will continue to cheer for and support. In Indiana, the last lap has more than one meaning.
I’ve been saying for some time, “tourism numbers in Vigo County are on the rise.” Recently not just by words, but economic impact numbers have shown the increase in tourism, including the rise in the innkeeper’s tax, which helps us keep our community visitor ready. I like to remind people that these are dollars coming into our community from visitors, not the local taxpayers. Why is this important? As Terre Haute/Vigo County competes for its share of the tourism market we have to elevate our own expectations. Visitors want a unique experience, and there is no doubt we’re working in that very direction. With the Terre Haute Convention Center around the corner, the possibility of a casino and many more outdoor recreation and event attractions, we’re not just competing, we’re competing to win.
Today’s visit by the Indiana Tourism Bureau presents a sign that we’re not the only ones that think Terre Haute/Vigo County is on the forefront of positive change in this area. Nine counties out of 92 across the state were chosen as host locations as part of the Indiana Tourism Bureau’s information collection tour. Indiana’s newly appointed Tourism Director, Misty Weisensteiner, made the listening tour a priority in the state’s action to create a strategic plan to growing its tourism numbers. Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL)’s Global Tourism and Destinations team and Longwoods International organized the visits and are collecting the data to compile an overall state plan. You can say I was more than pleased to see we were chosen as a priority location.
It’s only just begun. We have more of the story to tell in the coming days, months and years, but for now, take notice! Terre Haute/Vigo County is rising to the top as a tourism destination where people want to come and spend a day or two, or more. It’s our job to elevate our own expectations, create quality visits and keep telling the story on repeat. As far as today, I’m grateful Director Weisensteiner and her team saw something in Terre Haute/Vigo County, just as we do. We’re not just worthy, but we’re ready.
-David Patterson, Executive Director of the Terre Haute Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
With fall and winter fast approaching, recreational and sport activities change as fast as the new, seasonal weather. Don’t let the change in weather keep you away. We hope to see you in Terre Haute for all of our fall and winter activities!
October 4 & 5 – Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Homecoming
October 5 – Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Homecoming
October 5 & 6 – Pioneer Days at Fowler Park
Step back in time during the annual Pioneer Days at our 19thCentury Pioneer Village. Experience wagon rides, music, live-action demonstrations, authentic cuisine, vendors and more.
October 12 – Indiana State University Homecoming
The holidays also include candy cane hunts at Deming Park, night walks at Fowler Park and much more family fun activities. Please visit our calendar for more Terre Haute events. As always, we hope to “See you in Terre Haute.”
Cross Country Town USA remains to uphold its name in Terre Haute with the 2019 season race schedule line up.
Terre Haute will be hosting a variety of races at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course located at 599 Tabortown Road. With a couple of races in August and September already behind us, we are excited about a double feature on September 21st. The John McNichols Invitational at 9:00 a.m. followed by Conference Indiana (Middle School) at 10:30 a.m. Gates for the races open at 8:00 a.m. Looking ahead, September 25th is the Vigo County Middle School Championships.
October begins with the Nike Valley Twilight evening night race starting at 6:30 p.m. on October 5th. This is one of the newest and most exciting races in the Midwest. October 12th is the IHSAA Sectionals, and October 19th is the Under Armour Pre-Nationals.
Leading the month of November is the IHSAA State Championship Finals on November 2nd; November 3rd is the HCAC (Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships). November 16th, Nike returns with the NXR Cross Regional Midwest Championships.
All of these wonderful races are followed up by the last big race of the year. Terre Haute is proud to say this will be the 13th NCAA Div. I National Championship it has hosted at the cross country course.
With that being said, the attendance level of athletes and spectators is continually growing as running becomes more and more popular. This sport is growing locally and nationally. Terre Haute will likely see 35,000-40,000 pass through the gates at the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Course this season. We hope to see you all there. Please visit laverngibson.com for more information about the races and course.
The Terre Haute Convention & Visitors Bureau had its official ceremonial groundbreaking Friday, September 6, 2019 for the Terre Haute Convention Center project. Community leaders joined the Capital Improvement Board (CIB), along with the Board, Executive Director, David Patterson and staff of the Terre Haute Convention & Visitors Bureau to officially break ground on the new site and home of the Terre Haute Convention Center located at 8thand Wabash in downtown Terre Haute.
The new 41,824 sq ft building will be another added feature to the revitalization of downtown Terre Haute. The new convention center will be a great proponent for new growth in Terre Haute and its future. The facility is expected to bring an increase in tourism and economic vitality to Terre Haute.
As the Vigo County Capital Improvement Board moves forward with the Terre Haute Convention Center project, some exciting preliminary specs have been released about the facility. The Convention Center will provided much-needed conference space and will attract small- to medium-size conferences to the region. The recently-released project details provide some insight into the opportunities that this space will present to Terre Haute.
The new Terre Haute Convention Center is estimated to be 41,824 square feet: 33,836 square feet for the first floor and 7,988 square feet for the second floor. The Convention Center will feature a large 12,992 square-foot ballroom, which will have the capacity to seat 900 for dinner or 1,000 in a theater seating format. The ballroom can also be divided into five additional meeting options. Vehicle and equipment access to the ballroom will be available for trade shows directly from the delivery courtyard via roll-up doors. Additionally, there will be two ground floor conference rooms or break-out rooms.
One exciting aspect of the Terre Haute Convention Center will be the Larry Bird Museum, a two-story volume space that will feature memorabilia and history relating to Larry Legend.
The Convention Center will also include a full-service prep kitchen, indoor connections to both the existing Hilton Garden Inn and the proposed hotel on Cherry Street, six second floor conference rooms or break-out rooms, including the iconic board conference room overlooking Wabash Avenue. Building materials will include limestone, metal panel, and curtain wall glass.
Other major components of this project include the parking garages: one 458-space parking garage and a 294-space hotel garage. Both will have ground floor parking and four parking decks and be brick clad with cast concrete accents. The hotel garage will feature skywalk connections to both hotels proposed.
This is certainly an exciting time of growth for Terre Haute. The new Terre Haute Convention Center will be a proponent of that growth and an example for the future of Terre Haute. For more information about this project, please visit vigocountycib.com.