KEEPING TRACK - From September-October print RUNOHIO

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KEEPING TRACK - From September-October print RUNOHIO

Written by Rod O’Donnell on 31 October 2013.

The 2013 cross-country season has begun with athletes, coaches, and fans looking forward to competing once again during another beautiful Ohio autumn. From a participation standpoint, our sport continues to be healthy, with the latest national high school federation numbers showing 460,756 athletes representing 28,125 high schools in the United States. Incidentally, outdoor track numbers are 1,049,375 boys and girls competing at 32,361 schools; however, even though the figures are very positive, we must also be vigilant of factors that can hurt our sport.

Issue #1: The OHSAA has decided to solve the problem of having coaches who direct both genders being forced to choose which district meet they will attend. A school that is facing such a dilemma will be sent to the same site. The classification will be determined  by adding the enrollment of the boys’ and girls’ teams together and dividing by two. This is extremely unfair and creates many more problems than it solves. A quote that I once read comes to mind: “I cannot guarantee you the formula for success, but can surely guarantee you the formula for failure: Try to please everyone.” One answer to the split team dilemma is to hire different coaches to lead the two programs. Considering what they are paid, it would not be a significant financial burden to our schools. Let’s stop and think about one coach leading both at boys’ and girls’ team. Would we ask the baseball coach to coach the softball team? Many would say that running is running, regardless of gender. It is not, for many reasons, from both a physical and psychological standpoint. Many times one team is shortchanged, especially if the success rate is not balanced.

More on this issue -

Issue #2: Many schools no longer host home meets, choosing instead to travel each weekend to large invitationals. There are no sports that follow this type of schedule. Hosting a meet is important when promoting interest in the school and the community. When I coached at Hudson High School, we ran a dual meet with a rival school each year. The 3200 meter race was held on Tuesday evening, and, combined with a short post-meet work-out, took the place of our normal practice. Not only did this give us the opportunity to recognize our senior athletes, but we had to create more parking areas because of the large number of spectators who came to watch the race.

Issue #3: I have spoken with many coaches during the past several years, and I see a growing trend at many schools where runners are asking to be excused from meets, citing a wide variety of reasons for missing the meet. These may include taking their brothers and sisters to college, birthday parties, camping trips, etc. One of my favorite replies to these requests is, “What would the football/basketball/softball/etc. coach say if you asked them to be excused from a game for these reasons? Requests such as these show total disrespect toward our wonderful sport. If we want to be treated equally, we need the same dedication that other sports expect and get.

Issue #4: Post-season meets continue to grow in popularity. Both the individual (Footlocker) and the team (NIKE Nationals) are the most prominent. They are great for our sport, in terms of recognition, and they provide tremendous lifetime memories for the participants. Additionally, these meets provide the national media with opportunities to cover the sport. In some cases, however, there is a trend on the part of some programs to look past the state championship and put equal or more emphasis on the post-season. This is wrong. The correct approach can best be summed up by three-time Olympian, Mark Croghan’s answer to a question asked at the 2013 Nike/Second Sole Distance Camp. “What was the best day of your entire career?” His answer – “My team winning the state track championship my senior year of high school.” There is no greater or more memorable experience in a high school athlete’s life, and it should not be overshadowed by anything.

Issue #5: More coaches are choosing to run their top athletes in a very limited number of meets. They seem to feel that the regular season is not important at all and only concentrate on District, Regional, and State Meets. Once again, name another sport that does not try to win or at least put their best team on the field the entire season. High school athletes train to race; they don’t train to train and race occasionally. If the season-ending championship meets don’t turn out in a positive way, little has been accomplished. High school athletes must be allowed to enjoy the entire journey, not just the final few kilometers.

Issue #6: High schools continue to add sports to their already cash-strapped athletic programs. The school activity model at one time looked like a pyramid, with physical education at the base, intramurals in the middle, and athletics at the top, with each level representing the number of participants involved. Today with physical education being cut back and intramurals non-existent in the majority of schools, athletics have come to provide the most opportunities for participation. Many students, however, do not want the structure or want to make a commitment to the time necessary to be in a varsity or JV program; therefore, the pool of those wanting to be on teams remains nearly the same, resulting in the watering down the quality and making the competition for these athletes fierce. Thus, it becomes even more important for cross-country and track coaches to promote, recruit, and sell their sport.

Issue #7: The District location and teams that are competing are assigned by the District Board of Control for the respective regions of the state. Unfortunately, this is not usually done until late in the summer. Several years ago, the Northeast Board did not make the decision until October. As of mid-August, a decision has not been made for the 2013 season. In fact, on their website, cross-country is not listed as a fall sport. The ineptness and lack of respect is totally unacceptable and inexcusable. This type of neglect and inaction should not be tolerated by the coaches of our sport.

Those that truly love our sport must never become complacent or fail to correct or prevent trends that may hurt it. Instead, they must consistently evaluate ways to make cross-country and track even better for the hundreds of thousands of young men and women who take part in it.

Yours in track,

Rod O’Donnell

Other Keeping Track articles:


 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 -

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