The boys and girls varsity cross country teams at Broadalbin-Perth have officially wrapped up their fall season, with longtime coach Jeff Richards explaining that while COVID-19 definitely made the season challenging, it just may have been the one thing that helped his student-athletes truly find their passion for the sport of running this year.
“Despite all of the challenges the team faced this season, at the end of the day, these kids were just happy to be running and were thankful for the opportunity to do something they love,” Richards said. “They chose to focus on what truly matters, found the best in everything and could look past all of the excuses to just do their best this season.”
The boys team finished the regular season with a record of 1-7 and the girls team finished 4-4. At this past weekend’s Foothills Council championships, the boys team took eighth place and the girls finished in fourth place.
So how did COVID-19 change the look of cross country this season? In order to maintain social distancing, student-athletes ran individual races and compared their times at the end to determine the winner of each race. One runner started the course every minute in order to avoid runners being in close proximity to each other. Runners had to wear face masks to start and finish, and put their masks back on if they ran past anyone during the race.
Over the 21 years that Richards has coached the team, he says he has always trained the team as a “pack,” so that slower runners always have someone around to help them complete the course.
“When you race outside of a pack format, there are no teammates, opponents, spectators or coaches. It’s just you and your mind,” he said. “I know many people believe that cross country is an individual sport, but at B-P, it is truly a team sport.”
COVID-19 required the athletes to change the way they competed and the way they prepared for races. While training and competing were done individually this year, Richards said that at the end of every meet and practice, “the pack is once again reunited.”
“As each runner crossed the finish line, they would instinctively turn around and retrace their steps in an attempt to get back to our next runner to encourage a strong finish,” Richards said. “By the end, the entire pack is cheering on our final finisher. It’s an amazing sight to see and makes it all worthwhile.”
With just two seniors graduating this year — Samantha Murphy and Daniel Dylong — Richards said he looks forward to working with a strong group of student-athletes in grades 9-11 who will return next year.
“Sammy and Danny have definitely left a lasting impact on our younger runners,” Richards said. “They will all be eager to get back to normal competition next fall. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it is to not take anything for granted. We’ll seize the opportunities when we have them.”