50th Rich Dust Invitational cross country meet set for this weekend

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Rich Dust will again fire starter pistol at invitational that bears his name

By Josh Bootsma

LANSING, Ill. (August 30, 2022) – This Saturday, hundreds of high school runners will follow in the footsteps of thousands of athletes before them and run at North Creek Meadow in the Rich Dust Invitational. The races will start at the discretion of the man holding the starter pistol — the same man who started the dual-state tournament five decades ago and after whom it’s named — Rich Dust.

Starting the race

It was in 1972, three years after Dust started teaching and coaching at his alma mater TF South, that he had the idea and vision to start a cross country invitational that would be open to schools from both sides of the Illinois-Indiana border.

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Rich Dust (with clipboard) at the first Rebel Invitational in 1972, a dual-state cross country tournament he created. Fifty years later, the invitational is now named after him. (Photo provided)

“The idea behind when I started it was to try to get teams from Illinois and Indiana to compete against each other — we’re like the ideal location for this. Most times, you don’t cross the state line that much,” Dust said.

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In the 70s, like today, many of the local cross country meets were determined by conference and regional lines, which are specific to each state.

At the first Rich Dust Invitational in 1972 — which was originally named “Rebel Invitational” after TF South’s former nickname — 12 schools came to run, six from each state. At the height of the invitational in the 80s, Dust remembers roughly 30 schools participating. This year, 23 schools will gather at North Creek Meadow throughout Saturday morning.

Student, teacher, coach

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Rich Dust is now an IHSA and IHSAA (Illinois and Indiana) official for cross country, which keeps him close to the action and the current District 215 athletes. (Photo provided)

Rich Dust ran cross country when he attended TF South in the 60s. In college at Valparaiso University, he didn’t run on the school team, but as he worked his way toward becoming a teacher he knew he also wanted to coach.

Dust said he “lucked out” in the summer of 1969 when TF South asked him to help teach summer school. That temporary position opened the door for what would be 36 school years of teaching and coaching.

“I did four years of high school at TF South, four years of Valparaiso University, and then I came back and started at TF South. It just fell into place,” Dust said.

Starting as an assistant cross country coach, Dust took the helm as head coach one year later. He coached boys cross country from 1969–1988. In 1978, he invited interested girls to join the boys-only team. One year later, Illinois recognized girls cross country as its own sport. Dust coached the girls team from 1989–2004. In his last year of teaching, he handed the head coaching reins to others to aid in his retirement transition.

Beyond cross country, Dust also coached track for most of his 36 years at TFS, only pausing for eight years to coach softball. The reason for his switching back and forth was his three daughters, all of whom were cross country runners, and one of whom played softball instead of running track.

“I got to spend a little extra time with my family while I was doing my coaching,” Dust said.

Rich Dust fires the starter pistol at the Rich Dust Invitational in 2021. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Successful runs

During his decades of coaching, Dust coached numerous successful teams.

In 1981, the Rebels qualified for the state tournament — the first TF South team do so, and the only team since. The next year at the Rebel Invitational, the TFS boys varsity team took first place among over 30 high-quality teams.

In the 90s, Dust helped lead the TF South girls varsity team to three consecutive regional championship wins among seven consecutive conference championship wins.

Dust retired from teaching history and coaching at TF South in 2006. A few years later, the “Rebel Invitational” was renamed the “Rich Dust Invitational” in honor of the longtime coach and founder of the meet. Since his retirement, Dust — now a certified official for cross country, track, and swimming — has taken on the duties of firing the starter pistol at the Rich Dust Invitational and other local meets.

“It’s really rewarding. It really is. I may run across people somewhere that say, ‘I remember running in the Rebel Invitational.’ It’s been around a long time and it’s a nice legacy and it’s still going,” Dust said.

“I very much appreciate them naming it after me,” he continued. “Some of my contemporaries that were coaching they had fields named after them, like baseball or football fields. But there’s no field in cross country, you just go out and run. So when they called [to say the invitational would be renamed], I was very much appreciative.”

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TF South underclassman Rodrigo Cortez runs during the Rich Dust Invitational in 2021. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Dust also serves as a trustee on the District 215 School Board since 2009.

Saturday’s meet

Starting at 9 a.m., the invitational will have six races in the following order: freshmen/sophomore girls, freshmen/sophomore boys, varsity girls, varsity boys, open boys, open girls. The open divisions allow teams to run more than the maximum number of 14 split between the freshmen/sophomore and varsity races. The top five runners from each race of the first four races will receive points for their school.

The following awards will be presented at the conclusion of the invitational:

  • 1st place individual winner in varsity divisions
  • 1st place individual winner in freshmen/sophomore divisions
  • 1st–5th place team trophies in freshmen/sophomore divisions
  • 1st–6th place team trophies in varsity divisions
  • 1st–25th place individual medals in freshman/sophomore divisions
  • 1st–50th place individual medals in varsity divisions
  • Individual medals for winning teams in varsity division
  • 1st–10th place individual medals in open divisions
  • 11th–25th place individual ribbons in open divisions

The schools attending the meet are listed below:

  • Argo
  • Bishop Noll
  • Bloom Township
  • Bremen
  • East Chicago Central
  • Evergreen Park
  • George Washington
  • Homewood-Flossmoor
  • Joliet West (boys only)
  • Lincoln Way East (boys only)
  • Marian Catholic
  • Merrillville
  • Oak Forest
  • Reavis
  • Rich Township
  • Southland College Prep
  • Stagg (boys only)
  • St. Laurence
  • Thornridge
  • TF North
  • TF South
  • Valparaiso (boys only)
  • Whiting

North Creek Meadow is located just outside of Lansing, at the northwest corner of Torrence Avenue and Glenwood Lansing Road.

More information about the event is available at athletic.net. Scores will also be posted there following the meet.

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