Guest column by Ed Boehmke, coached for 38 years in South Carolina
These views of the guest column are solely of the writer and not of scrunners.com. Read more of Boehmke's ramblings at
The COVID-19 pandemic is a formidable opponent. On March 13 when any of the surrounding schools were contacting me and said that their district was shutting down and would not allow their track teams to attend the next day's Chick-Fil-A Games at Eastside, I thought that the situation was getting serious. I thought that maybe a few groups were going overboard with precautions and that this would soon pass and things would get back to normal. We went ahead with the meet if nothing else to show that there could be some normalcy amidst this chaos. How little did I know that the CFA Games would not only be the last track meet of the season but the last athletic event of the year - until this weekend. On Saturday, Hillcrest High School will host the first major cross country meet of the year. There have been a few other scrimmages with two or three teams in each, but this will be the first large high school athletic event in almost six months. This meet will set the example of how athletics, not just cross country, can (or cannot) deal with the virus.
Usually with these sporadic articles, I would stand on my soapbox and have my say hoping that at least a few of the SCRunners readers will enlighten themselves by reading my rambling. But this article (which has two parts - second part coming early next week) has me standing on a mountain of soapboxes! It is almost 4 a.m. and I haven't slept at all, pouring over sentences and ideas to get my points across to three major concerns I have for the upcoming Fight Like Wyatt Invitational at Hillcrest on Saturday and the entire cross country season.
I want to make certain that this article is up and available to everyone on SCRunners. I am hopeful that coaches will make their runners read this and share with their parents, friends, and any others who intend to be spectators on Saturday or this season.
The cancellation of the 2020 track and field season (as well as the rest of the spring sports) brought a quick end to many athletes' high school careers. It was a shame that the seniors had to miss some of the most memorable times of their lives as well as the opportunities for them as well as their underclass teammates to lose their chances on the field of competition. That one chance to be a state champion or to defend their state title was gone. All of us now have the responsibility to make sure that this scenario does not happen again.
Watching the news all summer, I kept getting caught up in the numbers, especially how they would peak a couple of weeks after a get-together holiday like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. The South Carolina governor and his officials were pleading with everyone to follow the advice and precautions that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) were offering but there remained mobs of people at the beach, parties, bars, etc. that took the whole situation as anything but serious.
People were wanting to get back to normal but not wanting to make their own individual sacrifices to make it happen. I was at the point that I almost hoped that the government would decide to shut down all of the fall things that we look forward to just to teach us all a lesson. I think the threat of losing college football wasn't quite enough! When some of the big conferences canceled their fall seasons and then the NCAA canceled the national championships for the fall sports, I think it started getting their attention.
So I am going to spell out what I think we have to do, as to meet directors, coaches, student-athletes, and fans (this includes parents) that will allow this cross country season to survive and be the best it can be.
1. LET US RUN
The responsibility of our having the opportunity to complete the season begins at the very first meet. Many meets have already been canceled. Some have been canceled because the facility will not allow activities (Coaches Classic and Eye Opener), and others because the meet director or their district thought that it would be unwise to have a large group congregating at one site. Some meets have limited teams, limited the number a team can run, and/or dropped sub-varsity races (JV) from the schedule. Below is what I think must occur to have a successful season. Please read all of them regardless of which group you are in so that everyone can understand the responsibilities of everyone else.
Meet directors - You need to do what you are comfortable doing. The number of teams, the number of runners in each race, and how many races you want to run are all up to you. Ask yourselves the following questions:
Where will you put the teams so that each team can be socially distanced from other teams and so that a team can be socially distanced from their own teammates? Are you going to allow "team tents" where runners tend to want to congregate?
Will you allow spectators? If so, how many? Are you charging? How will you handle the exchange of money?
Setting up an online payment where tickets are sold in advance and shown on a phone for admittance is a great possibility (I think that this is a requirement for Greenville County Schools this fall for other sports).
Do you have signs directing them where to go?
Will parents and others be allowed to come into the area designated for their team or will they be restricted to other places?
Do you (or someone you designate) have the guts to tell someone directly to put on a mask and/or keep socially distanced (not just doing it over a PA system, even though you should be doing that often)?
Can you go to a coach and tell him/her that he/she has parents (or fans) that are not adhering to the rules and to please ask them to obey?
Can you tell a coach that he must take his team and leave because his/her runners, parents, fans, or other coaches are not obeying the rules?
- You have the ultimate responsibility of making sure that your
runners and their families are aware of the rules and why (I'll
explain other than the obvious whys soon) they must follow them.
When not in a race, your athletes are defined as "spectators" and
are under the same rules.
You have to be stern enough to ask a parent to take their child home if he/she cannot follow the rules. You also have to be able to do the same thing to parents - ask them to comply or leave knowing that your whole team may be asked to leave.
You must make certain that each athlete has their own water bottle or brought a drink and puts their own garbage away so that others are not picking it up.
Have athletes bring their own food. If parents bring food for the entire group make sure that it is individually wrapped.
Many races will have designated area for your team to be and when to arrive and leave. Please follow these instructions.
If the race is being timed by chips that must be returned, please don't allow someone to take them up. Have the bag that they were delivered to you in open for your athletes to drop them into and follow the exact directions for returning them to the timer. Remember that they will have to handle the chips after you return them.
Have some kind of procedure established so that athletes can get rid of their masks (or race with them in their hands or around their necks) and a way to get a mask after they finish. For example, just before the start have your athletes put their disposable masks into a trash bag and have a new one available for each one after the race.
Have extra masks and hand sanitizer with you so that these are available to everyone on your team.
Encourage your athletes to use the hand sanitizer after putting on numbers and chips.
Have your athletes put their clothes in their own bags. DO NOT allow them to simply toss their warmup shirts and shoes in the team area.
Do not allow your teams to meet as a close group for anything. If you do get together for a pep talk, strategy session, team cheer or prayer, have them do it at an acceptable social distance.
If there are awards please make sure you know how you and your team are to get them. There will probably be no "ceremonies" for these. DO NOT expect the meet director to mail these unless he has specifically said so in his meet information.
Athletes - Remember that all of this preparation, cautions, and rules have been set up to protect you and the success of completing the season. Your utmost cooperation is a must if you plan on seeing November 6t or 7 as a competitor in the State Championships.
WEAR YOUR MASK. Take it off only when you are getting ready to race. Some directors will designate when that is, but be on the safe side and wear it until seconds before the gun goes off and put it back on as soon as possible after you finish.
During your warmups stay at least six feet away from your teammates and others around the facility. Make it a point to stay away from others especially if you see someone without a mask.
Make sure you parents will wear a mask for the entirety of their time at the facility. If they cannot tell them to stay home. It could risk you or your team being sent home.
Be a leader and make sure all of your teammates are doing what they are supposed to do. Don't complain about the rules - just follow them.
Keep all of your clothes safely away from others. Don't pick up something that does not belong to you.
DO NOT drink or eat after anybody. Bring your own water bottle or bottled drink and your trash in the teams designated area.
Bring your own food. If the team or parents are bringing food make sure that it is individually wrapped and that you never share it.
DO NOT shake hands or "high five" your teammates or competitors. Wash your hands often. Bring your own hand sanitizer.
Do not have a group cheer or prayer where you get into a tight pack. I'm not saying not to do a cheer or prayer, in fact I encourage it, but do not get closer than is socially allowed to each other.
Parents - Your cooperation is a huge key to the success of the season. I know you want to see your child compete, but the most important thing is that they be allowed to compete.
WEAR YOUR MASK and MAKE SURE THAT YOU ARE SOCIALLY DISTANCING.
Some meets may not allow spectators. Accept this and do not make phone calls or write emails to make this decision more difficult for the meet director and his school.
Make sure that you have received and understand the rules and regulations from your coach about the meet you are getting ready to attend. Do not assume that the rules for one meet will apply to the next. Know how early you can arrive, where to park, what gate to enter, where you can be and go when you get there.
If there is a charge for the meet find out how you can get a ticket. Don't complain if you get there and they will not take your money
If you have some reason that you cannot wear a mask, please don't come to the meet. You will not be judged for your reason but for the fact that you are not wearing one
Be willing to tell other parents from your school to do the same as you
Help your coach by stressing to your child how important that he/she follow all of the guidelines and rules.
If you feel ill don't come. It is much better to be safe than sorry.
Of course, there are plenty of other things that I hope common sense will dictate to all of us at a meet. But I mention these things to get you thinking about all of the possibilities that could be held against us. We will be under a magnifying glass by all of those above us that will make decisions about the continuation of athletics or their cancellation. Principals, athletic directors, district personnel, teachers, school staff, superintendents, and government officials may be present looking and passing on information to the decision-makers. There could even be instigators that are there for the sole purpose of "catching" and reporting us. Innocent pictures taken of runners by family or the press and put on social media could easily show people in the background that are not wearing masks and are not socially distancing.
The decision-makers are stressed with the reopening of schools and trying to do the best they can for all and if circumstances cause them to feel that the safety of the students and of their education is at jeopardy they will demand that changes be made such as no spectators limited teams, limited runners per race, or even cancel the rest of the season. Cross country is unique in that we allow spectators to roam.
Many of the athletes are not actively competing and are therefore spectators. School districts and the South Carolina High School League have devised certain protocols that we must follow. For instance, after a football game, the athletes are not allowed to walk across the field and shake the hands (or any other form of "good game" symbols such as fist bumps, etc.) of their competitors. This may seem silly to us after these guys have been face to face, running into each other and tackling each other to the ground, but the South Carolina High School League" decided it was best for the safety of the athletes. As a group, Meet Directors, officials, coaches, athletes and parents, must do everything right to ensure that we can continue our sport for the rest of the fall.
2. HELP US RUN
The second topic has nothing to do with cross country directly but with athletics in our high schools. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a financial disaster around the country and high school athletics is part of that disaster that will NOT recover this year. Most athletic departments run on ticket sales and booster clubs that do fundraising through different charity events (such as a golf tournament), advertising sales, and football and basketball concessions. You can be assured that businesses are going to cut back on advertising especially the small business owners of smaller communities. Ticket sales are going to be drastically reduced because of the number of people that will be allowed in the stadium. For example, Eastside's John Carlisle Stadium will be able to seat only 523 paying spectators to accommodate social distance protocols. This includes moving the band to the infield and having standing room only at the fence posts around the track. At an entrance fee of $6.00, that means a total of $3,300 for each of three home football games. Expenses include paint for the field, officials, on-site ambulance, security and ticket personnel. These expenses will reduce the profit of the game to under $2000. If the team makes the playoffs, there will be more revenue according to how far they make it toward a State Championship. If they don't make the playoffs, they can elect to play an eighth game which may or may not be at home. I tell you all of this because football ticket sales is one of the major sources of income for the school's athletic department. With revenue that is at least three times that during a normal year (per game) and the fact that a normal year would have five home games, you can see that the athletic departments of most schools are taking a major financial hit.
A lack of money in football will affect all other sports. Cross country is not an expensive sport, but it is not free. To have meets of any size requires that the meet director charge an entry fee as well as attempt to charge spectators, usually a parking fee, to meet expenses. Your school may not have the money to send teams to many or any meets during the year except those that are required by their region or the state.
So what can you do? First, join the booster club. Second, make a donation of any size earmarked for cross country. Third, find sponsors for you team and for the whole athletic department. There will probably not be "season tickets" or preferred parking for those that donate money or many other freebies for that matter. There is just not much money and every dollar will be precious for the preservation of the sports that your school sponsors.
I started this long article off by saying that COVID-19 is a formidable opponent. But it is just a microscopic, unthinking, unfeeling organism that is only trying to survive by finding host in which to live. We are smarter than that. Whether or not all of these guidelines are the cure-all is up to some debate, but we cannot deny that the rules set up around the world to fight this virus have influenced the way we live. Please do your part to help us bring life back to normal and most importantly, allow these athletes a chance to compete. Don't do things that can jeopardize the season for you or the athletes and please do things that can help all of our student-athletes.
WEAR A MASK. STAY AWAY FROM OTHERS. WASH YOUR HANDS. BE SMART.
Part two of this article will be published early next week on SCRunners. It will focus on the still undetermined method of qualifying and the procedure for the State Championships. Things will NOT be like they have been and I will discuss what you can do to make sure that our State Meet is for the best teams and runners.
Guest column by Ed Boehmke, coached for 38 years in South Carolina
These views are solely of the writer and not of scrunners.com. Read more of Boehmke's ramblings at