COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The OHSAA is still working toward having fall sports as scheduled this year, and one thing they are sorting out is which sports are considered contact versus low-contact. It’s surprising to some to see where one activity falls.
“I would definitely think cross country out of all of them would be one of the ones that was definitely going to be approved just because your goal is to get as far from everyone as possible when you’re running,” said Josh Lundgren, a senior on the Pickerington North cross country team. “I’m still trying to be in front of everyone.”
Cross country seems like a sport made for social distancing, but just days ago, it was securely considered a contact sport in Ohio high school athletics.
“I think cross country is a contact sport because of the sheer volume of runners,” explained Pickerington North head coach Tim Starkey. “One race we had here last year, in just one race, it had 549 runners and so you put that many people on a start line you’re going to be rubbing elbows and fighting for position.”
On Saturday August 1, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) gave a list of contact sports in which cross country was not included. Now, the OHSAA is working to confirm the sport’s change to low-contact, so competition could be possible this fall. But like everything else during the pandemic, there will be adjustments.
“We’re probably going to have to create more races to kind of thin out the number of runners, create a longer time schedule, hand out bottled water and then instead of runners being able to socialize as in the past, it’s go out and race, come back to their team camp and onto their bus,” Starkey explained. “The one thing cross country and fall sports have for it is we are out in the open. We are outside.”
Another aspect cross country has going for it is runners are already mindful of their space during races. Coaches say once the race is off and running, competitors spread out quickly.
“That’s something that we always try to advocate is when they’re running just their body awareness,” said Pickerington North assistant coach Chase Schneider. “Where they’re at in terms of a race, or where they’re running. Are they on grass, sidewalks and then are they about to trip up another runner? So, this year even having that extra six feet apart that’s going to help out where people are and keep that in mind.”
Starkey and his staff say they are thrilled that it looks like the team will have races this year because they know that sports for high schoolers are more important than trophies and results.
“I think it’s a sense of achievement. You know, you are trying to find your personal best and cross country really lends itself to that,” Starkey said. “Every race you’re racing against the clock, you’re racing against yourself and ultimately that’s the ultimate opponent. As long as we’re practicing safe protocols and getting out there and exercising, I think it’s better for the kids and better for the community.”
The governor’s office is still working with the OHSAA to finalize a plan for fall competitions that accommodates both health and practical considerations for athletes, coaches and fans.