By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
This week Missouri Southern cross country coach Tom Rutledge is about as happy as a child on Christmas morning.
The NCAA Division II cross country championships will be run Saturday morning on the Missouri Southern course. It’s the third time this meet has come to Joplin.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It was one of my goals when I got here, and I’m tickled to death to do it again. I want it to go without a hitch, which it will. It will be fun. ... Just don’t have rain.”
The forecast for Saturday is dry with temperatures in the mid-50s.
“The last three years we’ve run in snow and ice, and the coaches hate that,” Rutledge said. “Therefore they are looking forward to coming to some good weather hopefully. Joplin hasn’t been blessed with great weather the last couple of years. Last year we had lightning (that canceled the Southern Stampede) and the tornado. This year we had rain (for much of the Stampede).”
Missouri Southern was the cross country nationals site for the first time in 1999 and again in 2007.
“I kept bugging (people) and bidding,” Rutledge said. “People who came and saw our cross country course said ‘hey, that’s a great course.’ ”
A total of 64 seven-person teams — 32 men and 32 women — along with approximately 50 individual entries will participate in the meet. Athletes will start arriving in Joplin today, and many of them won’t leave until Sunday morning.
“Cross country is not a non-revenue sport,” Rutledge said. “We don’t see it, but the city of Joplin does. One year at the Stampede, I had the coaches write down how many rooms they purchased and how many meals they bought. I was told it generates between $500,000 and $700,000 every year for the city of Joplin. And that’s just for one day.
“I’m excited to do it. It makes me happy to see Joplin do well with it. The hotels love us, the restaurants love us, and that’s good because I don’t miss a meal. Bottom line is: We generate a lot of money for the area because of that course. It’s done a great job for us.”