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Written by Rod O’Donnell on 21 November 2016.

Throughout the years, the sport of cross-country has seen many changes. Race distances have lengthened, dual meets have disappeared (thus many programs never host meets), a variety of training methods have been used, and teams run fewer meets, many times rarely running their top runners.

Coaches who build programs around the latter two points feel that this saves their teams for the championship part of the season. In the September/October 2013 issue of Run Ohio, this philosophy was briefly addressed. Since that time, the practice has become more common, and, in many cases, the “Championship Season” has continued to be reduced. In the spring of 2016, our team (Parkersburg High School) was competing in our league meet. Several athletes were heard saying that their coaches had told them that this meet was not important, and that the only one that counted was the state championship. I have noticed the trend has continued this fall, with many “A” teams rarely competing and meet schedules shrinking. In one Eastern state, a top program did not attend the state meet, in order to focus on the Nike nationals. In another instance, a coach explained that his team did not compete often, in order to train harder. He added that it also gave his runners a “mental break.” When I heard that, I needed a “mental break.” Try to imagine a coach in any other sport, a sports writer, or the general fan understanding that philosophy. We wonder why track and cross-country continue to slip further and further from the mainstream, except in years when the Olympics are held.

If this trend continues, state governing bodies such as the OHSAA and athletic directors could reduce the number of meets that a team may run in. Incidentally, it is not uncommon for stronger teams to hold out their top runners even in district competition when they feel that they can advance to the next level without them.

Another reason given for abbreviated schedules is that the length of the races is too long. An easy solution to this would be to reduce the race distance. If competition is too frequent when considering the entire year, eliminate competing indoors, and do away with distance races in outdoor meets until late April. These ideas would reduce mental fatigue, save money, and reduce the time needed to run meets on those blustery early-season dates. Obviously, most people would agree that these ideas are absurd. They would lead our sport in the same direction that many collegiate programs have gone, which is elimination and general indifference. A sport that competes sporadically, de-emphasizes competition, and never hosts a meet at home is destined for obscurity and eventual elimination, considering that NO OTHER SPORT IS CONDUCTED IN THIS MANNER.

Additionally, the abbreviated philosophy with emphasis on only the end-of-the-season competition also establishes a potentially devastating situation. If the results are not what is expected, the “season” experience is not positive.

I have always believed teams that qualify for the state championship should earn this honor through the district/regional qualifying system; however, if the approach that many coaches are taking continues, maybe the NCAA Division I football playoff selection process should be adopted. Four of the criteria used are 1) strength of schedule; 2) championships won; 3) head-to-head competition; 4) comparative outcome of common opponents. This would not be easy to implement. Remaining neutral and basing the selection on objective facts may be nearly impossible; however, if it means preventing our great sport from slipping into further oblivion in the general sports world, it may be worth considering. At least it would force coaches to be held accountable every week, similar to every other team in the school.

As I reflect on my long career, naturally the great state meets stand out in my mind, but equally important are the many journeys that were taken to get there. Those championship days, relatively speaking, amount to micro-seconds, but the season, with the memories, lasts a lifetime. We owe it to our athletes to provide them with these experiences, therefore holding them and ourselves accountable for more than one or two days a year. For the vast majority of athletes’ seasons, not days, are why they compete. Ask those who have failed to advance out of regional meets about their experience when they have worked for nothing else but running in the State Meet. Our young men and women should not be asked to base success or failure on one day.

Yours in Track,

Rod O’Donnell

Read more of Rod O’Donnell’s Keeping Track articles on -

Keeping Track - Frank Shorter - 

KEEPING TRACK, Two Iconic Coaches -

KEEPING TRACK -  Caldwell Story -

KEEPING TRACK - Furman Elite Training Group -

Keeping Track - 2 Divisions for 120 Lacrosse teams?

Boy's Division II and Division III -

Boy's Division I -


KEEPING TRACK - Football and Track Athletes -

 The Ohio High School Athletic Association State Cross-Country Championships -

Cross Country -

 Track Faces Challenges that could have adverse effects thus causing severe damage -

Marketing Track & Field -

Student Athlete’s Questions -

The Need to Speak Up -

A new book by John McDonnell -

KEEPING TRACK - From September-October 2013 print RUNOHIO -

Random Thoughts -

Another Division I institution has dropped its men’s track program -

 Ohio University Athletic Department's Worst Decision -

Life Lessons from Cross Country -

Ten Pledges for Cross Country Coaches -

London Olympics -

 Improving as a Coach –

You Only Go Around Once -

Dear Jesse Owens –

West Virginia State Cross Country Championship –

SPIRE Institute -

Why is the OHSAA Treating Cross Country Different than All of the Other Sponsored Sports?

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