CAMP RILEA - They come from far and wide to wear themselves out. And have a little fun on the side.

It's the annual 3-Course Challenge, where more than 70 schools meet for one of the largest high school cross country meets in the nation. And it all took place at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center Saturday afternoon under sunny skies.

This year's event featured a team championship for the Astoria boys, drew a return visit from a Hawaiian school, and served as a homecoming for a former Seaside coach, who brought his new team with him from Oakland, Calif.

"This is the cross country meet around here, as far as I'm concerned," said Chuck Schneekloth, who took the Gulls to a state championship in boys track two years ago. "You can't pass it up. It's not just a race, it's an experience."

Nearly 1,400 runners (1,393 finished) showed up for this year's experience, including some of the best in the Pacific Northwest.

Cross country powers from Washington (Tahoma, Cleveland, La Center, Mountain View and Columbia River) and Oregon (Sisters, Oakridge, Summit and Kennedy) were there, along with Laguna Hills from California.

GARY HENLEY - The Daily Astorian

Astoria's Gordon Eckert took first place among Division 3 runners in the boys' Moderate course race, helping the Fishermen to a team title.And Schneekloth brought part of his squad from Castlemont High School in Oakland, where he is in his second year as the boys track and cross country coach.

"We have a team of 23 or 24 guys, but we just couldn't afford to bring everybody," said the former Seaside coach. "The school couldn't afford it. It's all coming out of my pocket and their pocket. The Oakland School District is in a world of hurt, financially. They've got a $90-million deficit."

Schneekloth "just went down (to Castlemont) to teach and to run and train," he said. "They didn't have a boys track coach, so I ended up coaching."

Castlemont went 10-0 last spring, and won the Oakland city championship for the first time in 11 years.

As for the cross country program, "We brought seven runners," said Castlemont's Devonte Dartez. "It's cool - it's the first time for everybody.

"We have a good track team," he said, "but this is the first year for cross country."

Also making the trip was a team from Punahou High School in Honolulu, Hawaii.

"We come to this every few years," said Punahou runner Owen Martel, one of 14 Punahou athletes at the meet. "The coaches have been here before, but this is the first time for all the runners."

The Punahou team arrived in Portland Thursday, and made stops at Willamette University and Lewis & Clark College before running in the 3-Course Challenge.

"I personally like Oregon - and we don't have meets like this," said Martel, who ran the Moderate course. "I went under," he said, meaning he fell in the water hole, an obstacle for athletes running the Moderate and Difficult courses.

There was also plenty of success from local runners.

As always, the race is divided into three courses - Easy, Moderate and Difficult - with five divisions, Division 1 being large schools.

The Astoria boys won the Division 3 team title, highlighted by a first-place finish (sixth overall) from Gordon Eckert on the Moderate course run, and a second-place showing (seventh overall) from Tomas Morrissey on the Difficult course.

Astoria's Katie Choate was third (10th overall) on the Moderate course; and Danielle DeBoer finished fifth and Amy Landwehr took ninth on the Difficult course.

Seaside competed in Division 4, with Noelle Harer coming up with the top finish for the Gulls, finishing second on the Easy course. For the Seaside boys, Josh Whitman took third on the Easy course.

Naselle competed in Division 5, and scored well with the girls' team.

Erin Saari was eighth and teammate Jenny Klinger took 12th on the Difficult course; Kristiina Chism took ninth on the Easy course, with Sunny Trent placing 12th. Annie Herrold was 11th on the Moderate course.

See other local results in Scoreboard.

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