When considering the current state of athletics on all levels that Covid 19 has caused, it is important that a great deal of imagination and innovation be used in order to ensure that sports continue; therefore, we must learn, unite, and work very hard to find effective ways to make cross-country appealing and viable, yet make certain that the rules set forth are followed in order to assure that our season continues. The same is true for track and field should the pandemic continue into spring.

Adaptability – Adhering to the rules set forth by various governing bodies, regardless of their restrictions or complexity, must be done. This will require changing meet formats by having fewer athletes in multiple races. Using staggered starts with multiple finish chutes are examples of changes that may be used. The most important thing that meet directors can do is to be certain that all coaches are told of rules well in advance of the meets and that they relay the information to their athletes, parents and spectators. Signage throughout the areas around the course should be posted prominently. It is the responsibility of everyone involved in the event to follow the regulations. They MUST understand, if this is not done, the meet or possibly the season will be be canceled. Bluntly stated: 1) Adapt; 2) Don’t attend or 3) Lose another season.

Patience – Due to very little coordination between coaching organizations or states, a variety of rule interpretations and the ever-changing information that is given by the media, coaches, athletes, and spectators must accept that circumstances may change quickly. At times, those making the rules do not take into consideration the viability of their implementation. Example: A meet director was asked to paint circles around the course, assign these areas to groups watching the meet, and require the groups to remain in the circles during the race. Obviously, this is an illustration of uninformed decision makers.

Having Plans #1, #2, #3, and maybe #4 – Coaches and meet directors must have a variety of plans in place that can be implemented, due to cancellations, last minute changes in guidelines, Governors’ decisions, etc. (Ex. Participation limits) For example, at one meet a plan was made to run a series of triangulars, starting every 30:00, if the total number of runners allowed to participate were reduced. This is an extreme circumstance, but the meet could still be held and the runners would have an opportunity to compete. Another alternate plan, should the season be canceled, is an idea presented by a local businessman in our area. A Grand Prix schedule has been drawn up, independent of the school system, for those teams and runners who want to compete. Liability insurance and other important details have been addressed, a schedule has been set, and the local running community has given their support. This shows thoughtful innovation, which can save a season, when those who love our sport are willing to step in, leave their comfort zones, and take action.

Watch what you say -  remember, we need to be in survival mode – As we know, there are those who want sports postponed or canceled. On the collegiate level, the ramifications of the virus have given athletic directors and college presidents the excuse they have been looking for to eliminate programs. The University of Minnesota, and The College of William and Mary, two storied programs, recently cut their track and field teams.  The University of Akron’s cross country program was discontinued in order to save $7,900 in a 4.3 million short fall.

Of all of the absurd, thoughtless, and dangerous quotes that I have read, the worst was by the cross country coach at the University of Illinois. According to Scott Ritchey of News.Gazette.com, the coach said, “It sounds weird to say, but one of the things I told our team was, we have the opportunity to improve, without the distraction of competition.” If I were the current Illinois athletic director, I would have to question why “competition” is viewed this way in this particular program. I doubt if Head Football Coach Lovie Smith or any other coach in the department views “competition” as a distraction. Those in charge of the budget are certainly questioning this perspective. This scenario is another example of a coach giving the impression that their sport operates on a “different planet” from the mainstream of intercollegiate athletics. Reckless statements and programs that seldom compete just provide “fuel to the fire” for sport elimination.

By the time this article is published, there could be changes and new revelations concerning Covid19. Many of these could have a profound effect on ALL high school sports. Let us hope that they are all positive. In light of the statistics that reflect the increase in many negative behaviors among this age group during this past few months, we have never needed athletics as an “island in the storm,” more than the present time. It is dependent on each of us to do everything within our power to see that the “island” survives the storm that surrounds it. It represents and brings out everything that is good for our young people. They desperately need this.

Yours in track,

Rod O’Donnell

More KEEPING TRACK articles on   www.runohio.com 

Life Lessons from Cross-Country -  http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/10-life-lessons-from-cross-country-updated-2020     

Facts -  http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/100-keeping-track-facts 

Keep Track – Track  - http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/67-keeping-track   

Marc Bloom’s Amazing Racers, By Rod O’Donnell -   http://runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/43-keeping-track-marc-bloom-s-amazing-racers-by-rod-o-donnell      

Critical Time for Cross Country and Track & Field -  http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/96-track    

Football and Track & Field -    http://www.runohio.com/index.php/news-features/features/78-keeping-track-football-and-track-field       

Take care and I hope to see you at a race soon.


Matt McGowan