The sports universe has been flipped upside down since the coronavirus pandemic started. But soon there will be high school sports again.
Cross country will be one of the first to return, along with swimming on Aug. 31. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association recently issued a list of new rules to maintain safety at cross country meets, and St. Louis Catholic coach Holley Pierce said she sees benefits to being one of the first sports to return.
"With our sport, it is always great to get more exposure," Pierce said. "We are getting more because we are one of the sports that can compete with the fewest alterations.
"We are just really happy that the LHSAA has given us this path to compete and keep everyone safe while preserving cross country."
Sam Houston coach Brandi Pryor said she hopes that a successful start to the season will help other sports as they restart.
"It is definitely going to be different," Pryor said. "If we can get through this, then hopefully, if nothing changes, that gives LHSAA a little insight when it comes time to start playing those other sports like basketball and softball — ‘Hey, this works, and this doesn't work.' I am going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that everything works out and improves not just for cross country but football, volleyball and everyone can have a season."
There will be several visible changes, including no mass starts. The current options are starting the race in groups of 25 with a starting line wide enough for athletes to be social distanced at the minimum 6 feet, or an individual (15-30 second stagger) or team (30-60 second stagger) time trial with staggered starts.
This will increase the time needed to complete a meet, so area schools and coaches say they are looking at running smaller meets while adding more meets to the schedule which could help the sport grow in the long run.
In most years there are only a handful of area meets, including Bell City, Sam Houston, South Beauregard and two McNeese State-sponsored meets. Group starts can increase to 50 athletes in Phase 3.
"It is exciting to have a chance to have more local competition," Pierce said. "It is hoped that this is a positive thing for the sport in this area in general.
"We have been to meets where there are 150 runners. That is seven start times. It makes it less manageable. We need to have more meets so we don't have everyone running and some people are running an hour after. It is not one of the guidelines, but it is one of the things that we are going to do to mitigate. We are not restricting entries, but we are looking at creating more opportunities for teams to compete."
Pierce said local coaches will meet Monday to look at starting new meets and finalize other issues such as timing and meet locations.
"We have some changes to make, and we are going to work with local coaches to try to get more meets and meet the standards that the LHSAA set," Pierce said. "We are motivated to work together and make up for the loss of the spring season."
If staggered start times are used, races will have to be a singular circuit with no loopbacks. A separate start and finish line are required for any race. Larger locations will likely be needed for meets to allow for a 3-mile course, or host schools will have to set up shorter courses, Pryor said.
"The host schools may have to adjust to that (no-loop course)," Pryor said. "A whole lap maybe 13⁄4 miles, and we will have to cut it off at that. That is going to be something we will have to discuss. Once you get to district, regionals and state, you are going to have to run the three miles."
The usual awards ceremony after the meet has been nixed by the LHSAA, and attendance will be limited to two fans per athlete. Masks will be required for all in attendance when not able to socially distance. The lone exception will be for athletes when they are competing.
Even with all the new safety regulations, Pryor said Sam Houston is committed to hosting the Bronco Invitational in mid-October.
"We are still planning to host our annual meet," Pryor said. "We usually do it in the middle of October and (we're) still shooting for that. We always have a good turnout. I have already had quite a few coaches contact me and ask when our meet is."