Petersburg cross country team adapts to COVID-19 restrictions with virtual 5K

About ten runners in shorts and tshirts pose in front of a bay with a rainbow in the background
Runners on Petersburg High School’a cross country team gather under a rainbow at Sandy Beach at the end of a practice run. (Photo courtesy of Debby Eddy)

This fall, with the pandemic restricting student contact, Petersburg High School has had to modify how student-athletes practice and play. But one sport that is holding nearly normal practices is cross country. And on Aug. 22, Petersburg’s cross country team participated in its first-ever virtual meet with other schools around Southeast Alaska.

Cross country is a non-contact sport that happens outside, so many high schools have gone ahead with their seasons in a near-normal way.

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“This is the sport to be in this year for sure,” said Debby Eddy, Petersburg’s assistant coach.

She says practices have been like other years except for daily screenings and temperature checks.

“Once we get all the screening done, it always feels pretty normal,” she said.

But Eddy said cross country meets are a different story. Petersburg participated in its first virtual meet Aug. 22, hosted by Juneau-Douglas: Kalé. Other Southeast schools participating included Thunder Mountain, Sitka, Ketchikan, Mt. Edgecumbe and Metlakatla.

All of the teams timed their own 5K races at home and then shared them. Eddy says the schools used a formula to come up with the results, including variables such as the runner’s times from previous years.

“No system is perfect, but in this sense it was better than nothing,” she said. “So, it was a great opportunity for the kids to see kind of where they lined up with people in Southeast so far.”

The meet’s results showed the girls from Juneau-Douglas: Kalé finished first and took eight of the top ten spots. Sitka girls took second and Ketchikan third. The boys from Juneau-Douglas: Kalé also finished first, taking six of the top 10 spots, while the Ketchikan boys took second and Sitka third. Petersburg and Metlakatla are in smaller school divisions, but the meet was open to all school sizes.

Petersburg’s Uriah Lucas took third place individually, with a time of 17 minutes and 20 seconds.

There may or may not be traveling to in-person meets this year for high schools. That will depend on the COVID-19 situation in towns that are hosting meets. But Eddy says that Petersburg is keeping the calendar as it is for now, including hosting a regional track meet at the end of September.

“That will be an exciting thing if that can happen for us,” she said.

Possible scenarios include each team running the race course separately to keep contact numbers low.

“It’s definitely not going to look the same,” Eddy said. “The athletic directors and such are all talking about this. We’ve been at the Petersburg meets where there’s over 100 kids racing. We may have to change our course because the distance, the width of the course, has to be at least six feet so that’s a new rule that’s begun. So, yeah, things are definitely going to look different if we race with other communities.”

Overall, Petersburg’s team is smaller this year and they’re pretty young, says Eddy. But she says they are working hard every day at practice.

“They’ve just got such good resilience,” Eddy said. “I mean, they’re able to just adapt to whatever, I’m just super impressed. I feel they would love to race, they would love to travel and do that fun stuff that we do but in the midst of all that, they’re making the best of it. I’m very proud of them.”

Other sports — like swimming, volleyball and wrestling — will start up next month for Petersburg High School. The school district’s Athletics Director Jaime Cabral said in an email that practices for those sports will operate very differently than in previous years. The teams will be following mitigation plans for each sport and location. Each team will have a meeting prior to the start to go over all the protocols that are in place, as well as screening requirements and limitations on numbers.

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Angela Denning is a reporter at KFSK in Petersburg.

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