(Update: adding video, comments from coach, runner, OSAA official)
Summit head coach cautiously optimistic about upcoming season
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- It's going to be an unprecedented experience, during a time when that's become the norm. Cross-country is already one of the most enduring high school sports -- and now, the athletes will be expected to wear masks while competing during the upcoming season.
"This is definitely going to be one like no other,” said Summit High School Head Cross-Country Coach Kari Strang, saying words we've heard all too often.
It’s language that used to sound so extreme, but has now become normal.
"I think anyone that has been around in the past 11 months, we know that things can change really quickly,” Strang told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday.
Strang has experienced that first-hand.
She was hired as the head coach early last year. Two weeks later, the pandemic hit, putting her first season on hold.
Cross-country has the green light now, but there was still major concern surrounding a rule that limited meets to just two schools.
However, Gov. Kate Brown eased up on that restriction last week.
"By allowing us the opportunity to have a little more competition, it's a closer semblance of what a normal cross country season is like,” Strang said.
Now, gathering size is determined by the county's risk level. Extreme Risk counties, like Crook and Jefferson, are capped at 50, High Risk counties, like Deschutes, are limited to 75 people, while Moderate Risk counties can have up to 150, and Low Risk counties are allowed a maximum of 300 people.
Brad Garrett, assistant executive director of the Oregon Scholastic Activities Association, who oversees cross-country, told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday, "The governor has given us a pathway. Now it's up to us to make sure we're following the guidelines – I mean OSAA-member schools, administrators, coaches, parents -- it's up to us now to make sure we can stay on the track."
"It's not time to relax," Garrett said. "It's time to get more diligent -- now."
Still, there's one rule in particular Garrett wishes was removed altogether – that cross-country athletes must wear masks during competition, no matter the county’s risk level. That means in between the whistles, not just on the sidelines.
In addition to the runners, Garrett confirmed that football and soccer players will have to wear masks on the field of play as well.
“As we move forward, what we’re really hoping for is some possible revision to the face mask requirement while they are competing,” Garrett said. “That would be huge, for a number of our sports.”
Maggie Williams, a junior cross-country runner at Summit, said the team been training with masks since June, while admitting it was a challenge at first.
"Sometimes it just feels like you can't take a whole breath, where you're not getting a ton of oxygen,” she said.
Williams added, “After a couple months of having to wear it, we’ve gotten used to it. It’s not too bad. I'm totally willing to do that to be able to compete with the team and to be able to run with them."
Strang, Garrett and Williams said they understand the current guidelines do not allow for a dream situation, but they all agree this is a positive step in the right direction.