Terre Haute, Indiana has become known in the Midwest under a few names. Considered the crossroads of America and a prominent college town, it has a reputation as a staple in West Central Indiana. However, on the National Stage, Terre Haute is best known for the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.
The LaVern Gibson Championship Course started as a passion project for the Terre Haute community. In the 1990s, the area the course is located served as a sanitary landfill and before that, a coal mine. The race track came to be through the work of two prominent cross country coaches and a man dedicated to his family. In the early 1980’s, Lavern Gibson endowed 240 acres of land to become the now famous course. Inspired from watching his grandson compete in cross country, Gibson worked to make this course what it is today. He worked alongside John McNichols; Head Coach for Indiana State’s track and field and cross country programs from 1983 – 2016, and William M. Welch; a legendary track and field coach who saw the beginnings of his career right in Terre Haute, to create a nationally recognized cross country course. His own family also assisted in the process. His son, Max, and his grandson Greg; an accomplished runner himself, both worked to create the impressive cross country course. Construction began in 1995. (laverngibson.com)
In October of 1997, the course officially opened as it hosted the Indiana Intercollegiate race. The course quickly became favorable due to its varying mileage options and diverse terrains. With loops and curves galore, it also has many uphill and downhill moments that challenge its runners. Those who succeed on the course truly show their talents and prove themselves as the best. The first kilometer of the course is a complete straightaway. The clear stretch makes it easy for spectators and press to line the barriers and cheer on the runners. But perhaps the most favorable aspect of the course is the 90% visibility of the course for runners and spectators. LaVern wanted a course with visibility due to his own frustration of only seeing his grandson Greg for the first five minutes of his races. The course was designed with care and intention so that the needs of both the runners and spectators can be catered to. (laverngibson.com)
The LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course and the town of Terre Haute have been able to host many famous races for both high school and collegiate competitions. The course annually hosts the IHSAA State Championship Cross Country Race as well as invitationals such as the Nike Valley Twilight meet and the Nike NXR Midwest Regional. The course has also provided a setting to the Great Lakes Region Meet, the Missouri Valley Conference Championship and the Indiana Intercollegiate numerous times. The course and Indiana State University have even been honored to be chosen to host the NCAA Division I Men and Women’s Cross Country National Championship a total of 13 times since 2002. (xctownusa.com)
Since it’s opening, the community has been able to continue improving the course and cement its relevance in the cross country world. Features such as a finish line building, press box, fencing, concession stand, bathrooms and bleachers have all been added to the course since its opening to enhance the experience of those who visit. The front straightaway is irrigated and future plans are in works to irrigate the entire course. But, perhaps the most exciting edition is the awards stand area. Using pillars from the historic Terre Haute House, the stand now gives an Olympic feel to all runners who are fortunate enough to stand on it. (gosycamores.com)
On a busy day, the course is lined with spectators bundled in their school affiliated sweatshirts and hot chocolate in their hands. Parents have looks of pride as they hope their child will come out victorious. There is often a nervous feeling that fills the air as runners prepare to confront the famous course. Spectators can see them jumping and stretching at the finish line before putting on the game face and plunging forward as the starter points his start gun in the air to begin the race. Once they take off there is nothing but anticipation as people wait to see who will cross the finish line first.
It is these moments in which many can reflect on Terre Haute’s rich cross country history and appreciate the endowments given to us by LaVern Gibson, John McNichols and William M. Welch that have made Terre Haute’s LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course so important so important to its community.
To learn more able how Terre Haute embraces the name, Cross Country Town USA, check out our blog written about the John McNichols Invitational.