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This Fourth of July race aims to finish late parent's work of bringing running trails back to Mary Alice Park
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High school cross country runners compete in the 2014 Forsyth County Cross Country Championship at Mary Alice Park. The trail created by a local high school parent for that event has since become overgrown and out of use, but an effort continues to revitalize them along with the high school county championship event.

One of the ways Rob Hasse connected with his kids was through sports. When his oldest son, Robbie, played baseball as a kid, Hasse got on the Board at Central Park. When his youngest son, Adam, started to play basketball, Hasse, a soccer player growing up, made a point of learning various basketball drills to practice with Adam.

When his middle son, Will, joined the Forsyth Central High School boys cross country team as a freshman, Hasse became an active presence with the program. He took photos at the races and encouraged runners before and after meets, but one of his signature efforts was helping to create a cross country trail at Mary Alice Park that was used for a high school county championship meet in 2014.

The event was a hit. Runners wound through the woods and roads of the park, then finished along the beach leading up to a peninsula. All around was a festival-like atmosphere of music playing and vendor tents with Lake Lanier in the background.

“We wanted to hold a festival, basically,” Will said. “A big congratulations party for everybody afterward on the beach. And everything just lined up perfectly.”

The event hasn’t been held since, and Rob Hasse passed in March of 2016. But one of the missions of the Independence Day 5K/10K race on the Fourth of July in downtown Cumming is to raise funds to once more create a functional cross country trail at Mary Alice Park that could be used for high school cross country events and regular public use.

Since that event in 2014, local high school cross country teams have resisted holding a county championship meet. Part of that was to avoid redundancy. In 2015, the Georgia High School Association, the state’s governing body of high school sports, went through its semi-regular process of organizing schools into classifications based off enrollment, then regions based off proximity. All five of the county’s public high schools were grouped in a region of six teams along with Milton High School. Regions are required to hold championship meets to determine which individuals and teams qualify for the state championship meet. A county meet seemed like a repetitive exercise.

But the GHSA has since reorganized cross country teams from smaller regions into larger areas. Forsyth County’s five public high schools now compete against teams from Cobb, Cherokee and Fulton counties, and so a county championship meet once again seems worthwhile to bring together local teams in friendly competition.

Will Hasse still hopes that event can happen, and that if it does, it can be at Mary Alice Park. He used to run on the trail’s wooded loop on a hill overlooking the lake before it became overgrown.

“I can personally attest, running there at sunset is just beautiful,” Will said.

He was on Forsyth Central’s boys team during that 2014 county championship race and went on to have a decorated career with the Bulldogs program. Will now runs cross country at Kennesaw State University, but he also works for Fast Race Services, the company that’s hosting the Independence Day 5K/10K.

Will won’t run in this year’s race. He’ll be too busy working the event, timing runners as they go through downtown Cumming past floats and tractors waiting to go in the 61st Thomas-Mashburn Steam Engine Parade.

It will be a festival atmosphere, the kind he hopes can be brought back to Mary Alice Park soon.

“My dad put so much time and effort into that and put so much love and work into that,” Will said. “…I want to get that county meet back together and to get everyone out there for that.”