Cross Country runners have resumed practice twice a week. Strict protocols including mask use, temperature checks and contact tracing are being observed to ensure safety of athletes and coaches. Photo via Rob Jamieson.

Amidst a year filled with unknowns and uncertainties, as we approached sports seasons, the question that loomed was, will students be able to play sports? The answer, for now at least, appears to be yes. Cross Country is returning in a near full capacity, both competing and practicing.

In light of the distance learning plans, the OSAA (Oregon School Activities Association) has made changes to the season schedule in order to allow for three seasons’ worth of sports, and to allow for a tailored approach based upon the needs of each county, as per a press release from August 5: “Shifting the season calendar later in the school year provides additional time for more schools to return to a hybrid or on-site learning format…”. The first PIL Cross Country meet will happen on March 8, with the season running until the week of April 19, with practices starting two weeks before that. Limits on when coaches can have practices during the offseason have been waived to allow practice time, while we approach the start of the official season. Cross Country is practicing twice a week, with meets outside of the PIL structure, like the Nike Cross Virtual Championships, which is a nationwide virtual event hosted by, you guessed it, Nike. The event is meant to showcase runners, and to give them a competitive event in the impromptu offseason, by allowing competition as a team, and as an individual. Franklin is participating as the Mt Tabor XC club.

With sports coming back during the spread and spikes of the Coronavirus across the country and here at home, a lot of valid questions have been raised surrounding the return of sports, concerning student and coach safety, while still providing a level of play similar to last year. The OSAA has directed teams to comply with the Oregon Health Authority’s directives, which means limiting spectator counts in accordance with OHA guidance for large group gatherings. This means checking athletes’ temperature before practice, seeing if they’ve been in contact with anyone who is symptomatic, and logging everyone at that practice. Athletes seem confident about the safety measures taken during practice, with Autumn Ost (12), a runner for Franklin’s Cross Country team saying that she “think[s] sports are super important for people’s mental wellbeing during this time and with running being an outdoor sport I think it’s fairly safe…I think sports are a great and safe way to get out, see people, and exercise.” 

Despite the recent spikes in coronavirus cases in Oregon, and the four week freeze on Multnomah County, school sports remain relatively unaffected by the new mandates from Gov. Kate Brown. According to the new regulations,“Schools participating in Comprehensive Distance Learning may only allow their school sports teams to participate in: Training, conditioning and competition for outdoor non-contact and minimal/medium contact sports.” Cross Country falls (unsurprisingly) under the non-contact bracket. The restrictions are not that limiting, as sports have been deemed “vital to the health and well-being of young people,” according to the mandate from Gov. Kate Brown. 

While the Coronavirus is still a very scary thing, school sports returning are a helpful bright spot in a relatively dark world. The OSAA has a plan for allowing all school sports to continue on an abbreviated season, including indoor and contact sports, with a full schedule available in the OSAA press release, found here. And the athletes are happy to be back, too. “It feels really good to be practicing and competing again. I’ve missed seeing my teammates and being able to run with people again in a safe manner is really nice,” says Ost. 

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