For high school cross country, it’s going to feel just the way it has for the past hundred years.
The actual running part, that is.
The rest? Who knows? People in authority are setting policy on a day-by-day basis due to the pandemic.
We don’t know if there will be a single invitational meet (many have been scratched). Districts and state championships could be casualties of the pandemic.
And yet the runners have been training just as hard as if all the aforementioned competitions are a sure thing.
And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Just getting out there, running for all the right, healthy reasons, help make things seem a bit more normal, even if they aren’t.
Council Rock High School South assistant cross country coach Mike Gross has his fingers crossed that there will be some sort of season.
“Kids just look for normalcy,’’ Gross said. “It’s hard on them but they’re resilient. The kids are tougher and more resilient than we give them credit for sometimes.’’
A few months ago, having a season seemed unthinkable. But conditions have improved, enough so where high school sports have a chance to happen.
“The situation is fluid, we hear different things everyday,’’ Gross said. “I think everyone has the best interests of the students. It’s how you prioritize, it’s how you weigh risk.
“It’s the same as we did with the Bucks County Roadrunners. When was it safe to come back with group practices? How did we deem what is safe?’’
Everyone’s doing their best to pull this off because the high school experience offers a very narrow window of opportunity.
“With respect to coaching at the high school level, I think most of the coaches are hoping to have a program for the kids,’’ Gross said. “They understand that if adult runners miss a fall, there’s another fall next year. We’ve had lots of those.
“In high school, they don’t get a second bite at the apple. They get four chances, if they’re a senior, it’s the last one. It’s not like college where they can redshirt. They’re done, that’s it. So you hope they get the opportunity to do it in a safe way.’’
Even if the schedule is severely limited, dual meets could at least present the opportunity to have goals for which to train.
Just like anywhere else in society, it’s about following the proper safety protocols.
“Council Rock and other school districts have specific practices, kids have to come to practices in masks,’’ Gross said. “When they’re stretching and things like that, stay six feet apart, even outside.
“Kids are kids, though. Teenagers love to gravitate, group up. It’s what they do. So how do you keep them from doing that at practice? I think we can.’’
The uncertainty of the future clouds the picture. Postponing the start of a season for a few weeks really doesn’t due that much good when health officials tell us it could be six months, a year or more before an effective vaccine is found.
“You do your best to stay apart,’’ Gross said of his team’s workouts. “You hope there’s wind and stuff moving things around. And that you can keep these kids and coaches safe.’’
For all we know, the kids may be asymptomatic and it may be the coaches who bring it home to their families themselves.
“It’s complicated,’’ Gross said. “But I think most programs around have coaches who care about the kids. They’re following rules and want to find a way to make this work.’’
What’s the mood like in the preseason training sessions? Are young runners as gung-ho to compete after a summer of base work the way they usually are?
“Kids want this,’’ Gross said. “I think they want it bad. Sometimes to the point where you do have to remind them to do things safely. If we follow the rules, maybe we can make this happen.’’
Technically, making meets safe will be a challenge.
“Most of the invitationals have been canceled, you’re not going to have big races in Pennsylvania,’’ Gross said. “Dual meets? I think doable. Spacing kids at the start. Once the gun goes off, they’re pretty safe. The finish? You can’t have a chute. They just have to run through.
Each coach just has to have someone counting and writing down their kids in order.’’
In a way, it’s like old-fashioned timing from years gone by before electronic devices and digital tracking on computers.
How many runners will be allowed to run in a race remains up in the air. A strict splitting of varsity and junior varsity squads could help alleviate overcrowding.
School boards are voting Friday just to get an idea where we go moving forward.
“It’s not a done deal that we’re having a season,’’ Gross said. “But I hope. I think most coaches are planning as if there will be a season. Control what you can. Train as if there will be a season. If there isn’t, we’ll still be better for it.’’