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One lap remains for Minnesota’s high school cross-country runners after all.
Dozens of teams and about 100 individuals will compete in the inaugural TC Running Company Cross-Country Showcase on Oct. 30-31 at the Island Pine Golf Club course in Atwater, Minn.
“This will be the only meet of the year where the top teams and individuals will race on the same course and on the same day,” said Adam Lindahl, the founder and owner of TC Running Company. “We’re glad this came about.”
Rejection became the impetus for invention. Earlier this month, the Minnesota State High School League voted against any sort of fall sports competitions past the section level. That meant no state meet races for Class 2A and 1A boys and girls at St. Olaf College in Northfield. In response, the sport’s coaching leadership sought alternatives outside the MSHSL’s purview.
Borrowing the format used in Nike Cross regional and national meets, the showcase meet features teams and individuals competing as club teams, which borrow the names of their high schools and nothing more. Varsity coaches cannot instruct runners. And high school-issued jerseys and shorts are prohibited.
But the core of the experience -- running with friends and against rvials -- remains intact.
The division of teams mimics the MSHSL classification model. The larger schools compete on Friday, smaller schools on Saturday. A two-day format is needed to accommodate the 40 large-school teams and 50 individuals plus the 24 small-school teams and 56 individuals.
“It’s nice to find a way to say yes to the kids instead of the opposite,” said Mark Alcorn, a retired track and cross-country coach who is coordinating the small-school teams.
Guidelines followed all season to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 remain in place. The large school teams will race four at a time in waves of 28 runners, who are required to immediately leave the finish area before the next wave is released.
When it comes to allowing spectators, a heated topic during the season, Lindahl said options are still being discussed. Racing four teams at a time, he added, should allow the meet to proceed safely.
“I think the cross-country crowd will understand and will abide by the idea that they shouldn’t being staying around all day,” Lindahl said.
Invitations went out to large school teams based on their section meet finishes or their place in the coaches’ association rankings, said Aaron Berndt, who is coordinating the large school teams. Berndt coaches track and field at Wayzata but not cross-country.
Alcorn said opportunities were offered to small-school programs unable to compete in section races because they were shut down when COVID-19 cases in their counties forced schools to move to distance learning.
Alcorn mentioned the Fairmont girls’ team and a boy from Martin County West as examples of runners given new competitive life.
“People are excited and very appreciative,” Alcorn said. “They are glad to have a chance to compete and still feel safe.”
Entry fees are $150 for teams and $20 for individuals. Berndt said “the best-case scenario” is breaking even.
Lindahl said, “I hope we will make it a memorable event and that we never have to do it again.”