HUGHSON -- It was a cross country meet; but it wasn't your typical cross country meet.
The First Stanislaus County Supercross Country Invitational at Hughson High School had all the trapping of any high school invitational.
Runners warmed up en masse, huddling up for team cheers before their race. Coaches and fans shouted encouragement. A gun fired before every race.
But the large crowds that gathered near one spot of the 4-kilometer course were something new.
That was where Hughson coach Joel Bernard added a little twist: A 20-yard mud bog bracketed by hay bales.
Runners had to vault the hay, then splash through mud -- twice -- before finishing. It went over pretty well.
"I'm new to running, but all that I've heard from people is there are no mud pits in any meets," said Downey freshman Hope Davis, the varsity girls winner. "It gave us something different to deal with. It was a lot of fun."
For all four races, a large crowd gathered at the mud pit just east of the football stadium. It was the site of several funny scenes throughout the day.
One junior varsity boy fell, finishing the race a mud-spattered mess. At least twice, runners lost their shoes. One JV boy had to walk back through the water, as helpful watchers pointed out where he lost it. A varsity girl from Turlock lost her shoe and kept running. One of her JV boy teammates grabbed it and ran it to her.
Several runners sprinted near the fans, splashing them and smiling as they heard the squeals.
"This was just a great, fun race," Ceres coach Natalie Alvarez said. "Seeing the kids have so much fun out there, it makes me wish there was a coaches race.
"Running through the mud and dodging obstacles, that's what cross country is. It's muddy and gross sometimes, but it's a blast."
The race was something Bernard has wanted to do "for a long time."
As he entered his 10th year as Hughson's coach, he realized it would be possible this year.
"The school bought a nine-acre parcel just east of the stadium," he said. "Eventually, it's going to be athletic fields. We're hoping to put in a permanent cross country course."
Right now, it's an empty field covered with weeds. So Bernard and his runners spent some time carving out a course. They put in some small hills and lined the mud pit with plastic so the water wouldn't soak into the ground. It was a big hit.
Ceres junior Alejandro Garcia won the varsity boys race.
"If you win, you always want to come back," Garcia said. "But this was as different a meet as I've ever run in. I've never run in anything like this before."
Hitting the water was a new experience.
"I had to slow a little bit and really watch my balance," Garcia said. "You could feel it kind of sucking at your shoes."
Six teams competed this year: Turlock, Pitman, Downey, Waterford, Ceres and host Hughson. Bernard hopes it'll grow.
"I want to make this an annual race," he said. "Eventually, I'd love for it to be a true county meet."
Right now, he'll settle for six happy cross country teams.
"We'll be back for sure," Alvarez said. "I think everybody out here is going to come back.
"And next year, I'm going to try to convince them to do that coaches race."
Will DeBoard's high schools column appears Thursdays. E-mail him at email@example.com, write him at P.O. Box 5256, Modesto, CA 95352-5256, call 578-2300 or fax 238-4551.