Ray's Theory: Summer XC Preview Vibes Are Kindling

I wish I could focus on cross country questions in the pre-season preview article. I wish I could discuss things like 'Can Tatum David of Richland County be caught this year?' or 'Is Winnebago the next dynasty?' Or everyone's favorite, 'Who will the new sectional system benefit? Who will it hurt?' But these questions are secondary, it pains me to say.

Effective cross country coaches are adaptive. They adjust and fit training plans to a wide variety of athletes in many different circumstances, and are responsive to the needs of their team. This fall, the creativity and flexibility of coaches will be tested like no other, when countless restraints look to threaten the design of cross country meets. This is the season that we all hope will never happen again, but we know it is happening this year anyway, and we must play the hand that we are dealt with.

This season will require more teamwork and brainstorming among the high school athletics adults in Illinois than ever, and we hope to facilitate as much productive discussion as possible. When we send out our summer coaches' surveys later in the month of July, we will not shy away from asking about your thoughts on holding cross country meets in the state. If districts are given autonomy in determining how to prudently hold meets, we may need input from as many coaches as we can. Covering track and cross country at MileSplit gives us a unique forum to air every idea, good or bad.

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson already emailed the athletic directors in the state the results to a state fundraising survey completed by AD's, principals, and superintendents. There is a clear divide on how to balance virus response with caring for the mental and emotional well-being of our athletes. How can we mandate procedures that maximize involvement in sport, while minimizing spreading the virus, when the virus' impact differs throughout the state and for different demographics? This is an impossible question. There seems to be a dichotomy drawn-we must choose our kid's normalcy of life or choose society's health. People seem compelled to minimize one to justify the other. But the cross country and track coaches know better than anyone that everything is more complicated than that, and this is no exception. Runners are resourceful. Runners are patient, gritty, clever, and collaborative. Runners may be the best group to solve our problem.

I wrote in March about the line I have hated to walk between optimism and honesty when speaking with my athletes. "Will there be a season?" The optimistic answer may mislead them. The honest answer may defeat them. Yet I remain optimistic for the fall season and our prospects to hold meets, for the reasons I listed above. Let's make this season happen, together.

In a brief retreat from reality, let's quickly highlight the major storylines in 2A girls, which I cover. The aforementioned Tatum David enters the season and the best runner in the state across divisions, but now has a target on her back. Defending champion Benet Academy returns their full squad and is favorite once again. State last year reminded us that there will always be surprises, and Prairie Ridge (3rd) and Fenwick (4th) proved this. This year, 2020, when athletes have been left to train on their own, there may be even more surprise teams and athletes than usual. Who could it be? Check out our August preseason previews for some hints!