Like all of you, I've already started wondering what the current pandemic means for summer training, and even longer term, to the 2020 cross country season.
So, this week, I reached out to Fran Martin, the assistant executive director for the Kansas State High School Athletics Association, and the lead administrator for boys and girls cross country.
Let's just say that what I learned is that our state's governing organization for high school athletics wants to get back to competing just as badly as all of us. In every interaction I've had with Fran and other KSHSAA officials over the years, I have been so impressed by their dedication to high school athletics in our state.
Fran, as always, was very gracious and forthcoming in answering my questions about the likelihood of a high school sports season next fall. Of course, my interest was specific to cross country, but there is probably quite a bit in our conversation that indicates what KSHSAA is thinking in regards to all fall sports.
The following is a transcript of my communication with Fran earlier this week:
We're all hoping that high school athletes will get to compete this coming fall. What is happening at KSHSAA to plan for the Fall 2020 sports seasons, and are there any issues specific to cross country?
Fran Martin: Currently our staff is working toward a fall season that starts on August 17 with practices. The decisions of state and local governments may cause this target date to change, so we must be flexible. This may include the possible shortening of the season if we can't start on the scheduled date. We would still hope to have our state championship events on the days scheduled and at the locations selected. We encourage all coaches and student-athletes to follow the CDC guidelines for hygiene and state and local guidelines regarding social distancing and mass gatherings. The heat acclimatization policy adopted by the KSHSAA will still be in effect. That guideline is online at http://www.kshsaa.org/Public/pdf/HAInfo.pdf
When it comes to the Fall 2020 sports season, is KSHSAA likely to make a decision that affects all sports, or is there a scenario in which some sports may be able to be played, and some not? Is it an all-or-none kind of decision?
FM: The KSHSAA will continue to evaluate possibilities of having some activities that may allow for social distancing depending on the guidelines provided by the state and local health agencies. We recognize that some activities have larger crowds and more possibilities for mass gatherings. Our Executive Board will continue to monitor this and would be the group that would make any decisions about cancelling seasons or permitting an activity but not another.
Specific to cross country, is the fact that it is an outdoor activity advantageous in terms of determining whether to hold this activity? Why or why not?
FM: The national, state and local health organizations have indicated that being outside and socially distanced is better than being inside where the air is more stagnant. Because there can be large crowds and many student-athletes coming across the finish line at the same time, some falling to the ground and requiring assistance to get up, schools may need to look at different structures for meets (such as) smaller events, staggered start times, different exits for each team off the course at the finish line, or other techniques to keep runners and workers safe.
Assuming cross country is contested in the fall, would you foresee any conditions that could be implemented to heighten safety of the athletes -- such as wearing masks, staggered starts, wider courses, limiting areas open to fans (or maybe even no spectators), etc...
FM: All of those options will be considered if we are able to compete with restrictions.
Is it possible that sports would be contested even if schools go to online learning again? What might that look like?
FM: If students are not allowed in school buildings for any portion of the day, it would be difficult to continue to have activity programs. If the fundamental reason that schools were not open was because of the concern of direct contact, the KSHSAA would need to evaluate if there were any activities that could take place virtually (debate and speech come to mind).
More immediately, what guidelines are being put into place to allow cross country teams to practice during the summer months?
FM: The summer guidelines are posted on our website. Of great concern is that some students have been inactive for up to nine weeks. They need to acclimate into a physical program that will not cause injury or illness. We have provided guidelines requiring two weeks of conditioning before competition is allowed. Student-athlete safety is of primary concern.
What's the best way for student-athletes, parents, fans to keep up with the most updated information on the 2020 cross country season?
FM: Keep in contact with their coach and school administration; information and updates will be sent to them. In addition, our website will provide updates to policies and frequently asked questions as we work through this challenging time.
The KSHSAA website is located atwww.kshsaa.org.
Chasing Excellence now available for pre-orders
In 2008, U.S. coaching legend Joe I. Vigil and high school coaching megastars Joe Newton and Danny Green gave a clinic to about 230 coaches in Kansas City. Vigil, head coach for the U.S. Olympic distance runners that year (his second stint as an Olympic coach) has since come to Kansas to give smaller clinics on at least two other occasions.
Vigil's life story is now detailed in a book available from Soulstice Publishing of Flagstaff, Arizona, called Chasing Excellence: The Remarkable Life and Inspiring Vigilosophy of Coach Joe I. Vigil.
Full transparency here: I wrote the book! But this is more than my shameless plug. While track and field and cross country junkies - like myself - will go wild over Vigil's incredible coaching success, the back story is of a boy born into poverty who beat the odds life put against him and rose to world fame.
Bottom line: You will be inspired by a remarkable man who is as humble and giving as any you'll ever meet.
Pre-orders opened on Thursday, May 7 and are available from Soulstice Publishing, www.soulsticepublishing.com for $19.95. Soulstice Publishing soon will announce a special gift for those who pre-order in the next four weeks.
Hard copies for those who pre-order should be available sometime between the middle of June and early July.
Ten Years Ago...
Continuing with a theme I've used in this column the last five weeks, here are some of the great performances in Kansas high school track and field from 10 years ago
At the Greater Wichita Athletic League championships, Skylarr Gatson and Dreamius Smith of Wichita Heights went 1-2 in the 100 meter finals in 10.70 and 10.80. Demarcus Robinson of Wichita Northwest was right on their heels, finishing third in 10.80. Gatson (21.90) later nipped Wichita Southeast's Steven Calloway (21.95) in the 200.
Kearsten Peoples of Ottawa swept the shot put (47-11) and discus (160-0) at the Frontier League championships, and four high jumpers cleared 5-4 to win their respective league titles: Kayla Mcdonald of Winfield (Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League Division 2); Ashley Shearer of Cunningham (Heart of the Plains); Jasa Dumontelle of Mill Valley (Kaw Valley); and Jenny Pinkston of Olathe East (Sunflower).
Keene Niemack of Lawrence Free State won the 400 at the Sunflower League championships in 48.87, Brendan Soucie of Osawatomie won the 800 at the Pioneer League championships in 1:52.96, and Josh Munsch of Hays won the Western Athletic Conference title in the 1600 at 4:18.10.
And Five Years Ago...
Five years ago this week, Leavenworth freshman Aarika Lister smoked the Sunflower League with wins in the 100 (11.85) and 200 (24.91), while Wumi Omari of Blue Valley North won the 400 at the Eastern Kansas League meet with a time of 56.18.
This week also marked the first league title for Wichita Southeast's Christal Mosley in the GWAL, clocking 56.93 in the 400. By the time she graduated in 2018, Mosley had garnered state titles in the 200 and 400 and a state record 55.50.
Freshman distance runner Molly Born of Shawnee Mission
Northwest debuted at the Sunflower League, winning the 3200 in 11:08.99,
beating the defending state champion (Emily Venters of Lawrence Free State).
Two weeks later, Born beat Venters again for the class 6A state title.
Audrey Fisher of Olathe Northwest cleared 5-6 to win the high jump at the Sunflower League championships, and Keiryn Swenson of Maize threw the javelin 158-4 to win the Ark Valley/Chisholm Trail League meet.
Junior Ethan Donley of Lawrence Free State clocked a then-career-best 1:56.57 to win the Sunflower League, en route to winning the class 6A state title two weeks later.
Willie Morrison of Leavenworth - seems like we mention him every week, right? Well, that's okay, because the dude was a beast! Five years ago, he crushed everyone in the shot put (68-11) and discus (192-5) at the Sunflower League championships
At the Greater Wichita Athletic League meet, Kaden Griffin of Wichita South flew 23-8.5 to to win that title.