In recent months, Chris Johnson said he could “read the writing on the wall” that cross country would not have an OSAA championship meet this season.
So the Siuslaw coach and athletic director went to work to see if 4A teams could take matters into their own hands and stage a season-ending event during the culminating week.
Athletic directors representing the six 4A leagues recorded a video message for the OSAA executive board: "We said, 'If you decide not to have something, let us do it,'” Johnson said.
It appears that a state 4A meet will come to fruition. According to Johnson, 4A district representatives are on board with a season-ending event for April 10. They were hoping to have it on the state course at Lane Community College, but are leaning toward Alberbrook Golf Course in Tillamook.
“So many 4A schools, the town is really tied into what's happening with the culture of the sports,” Johnson said. “Kids want to have an opportunity to go to a state championship type of situation if they can qualify. And the town and the community feel that way, too. We just want to have as normal of a situation as possible.”
Johnson said he has sought a permit to use Lane but the application is still pending. In the meantime, Tillamook coach Pat Zweifel, who has experience running large meets such as the Ultimook at Hydrangea Ranch, has stepped up and offered to organize a meet at Alderbrook.
“He's really excited to do it,” Johnson said of Zwiefel, who hosted time trails for teams at Hydrangea Ranch last fall. “He was smart enough to realize that it might be more difficult for us to get something passed through a public institution than it would be a private setting.”
Having the meet on the Oregon Coast will make for a long trip for many teams, but Johnson said he is encouraged by the feedback he has received so far.
“It's difficult for us to find consensus as a classification on where it's going to take place, but we've got someone in Pat who is an expert at putting on big meets,” Johnson said. “If four of the six leagues decide that Tillamook is OK, and the other two want to do something else, that's totally up to them.”
The meet will follow OSAA qualifying procedures. The top two teams from each district and the top five individuals will be invited.
“We don't really see any huge roadblocks right now,” Johnson said. “If things change as far as risk factors, we can make adjustments.”
Mask proposal: A group of coaches has been working to convince the state to relax its rules requiring runners to wear face coverings during practices and meets.
Summit's Kari Strang, Jesuit's Tom Rothenberger, Siuslaw's Chris Johnson and South Eugene's Steve Richards have been active in pushing for modifications to the state's protocol.
“Cross country is a hard sport to begin with, and it just adds a whole another level of discomfort to it,” Strang said. “We have athletes that aren't able to come out because of masks. I have kids on the team with asthma, so that's incredibly challenging for them.”
The coaches sent a letter to the Oregon Health Authority and the Governor's Office on Feb. 23 to request modifications to the rule, the only one of its kind in the nation.
Citing studies about transmission of the virus in well-aerated outdoor settings, and circumstantial evidence from 30 states that had cross country seasons in the fall, the coaches suggested changes.
They proposed that athletes could lower or remove their face coverings if they are participating in a “sustained high-intensity exercise” outdoors and they can maintain a six-foot distance from another runner.
“When we were doing easy runs and lower-intensity workouts, it was uncomfortable but it was manageable,” Strang said. “But as we've gotten closer to the season and started doing higher-intensity work, it's a very different situation.
“It takes a lot of the enjoyment out of the sport because you're so aware of not being able to get a full breath. The masks get saturated really quickly, and with the inhalation, you're sucking the mask back in.”
This week, in an email response from the state's COVID-19 re-opening coordination team, they learned that their request was denied. Strang said she became emotional when telling her team about it.
“To say we were disheartened was an understatement,” Strang said. “I just told them we're going to keep trying. I'm really proud of the way we've approached this and the tone we've taken.”
Lightning strikes: Reigning 6A boys champion Franklin opened the season Wednesday by winning a four-team Portland Interscholastic League meet at Pier Park.
Lightning senior Charlie Robertson, the 2019 state runner-up to former teammate Aidan Palmer, finished first in 16:03.40. Franklin junior Charlie North, who was 15th state in 2019, was second in 16:06.50.
Franklin outpointed Wilson 24-38 to win the meet. Wilson won the girls meet, beating Franklin 22-34 behind junior Charlotte Richman, who finished first by 23 seconds (19:10.80).
The other half of the PIL raced at Lents Park. Lincoln junior Kendall York won the girls race, leading her team past runner-up Grant 15-41. Lincoln's boys beat Grant 17-46 for first place behind junior Mateo Althouse, who won in 15:56.70.