Q&A: Assistant commissioner Jenn Roberts-Uhlig on modifications to cross country's season

State cross country generic

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

The cross country season can begin competition on Saturday.

Before that happens, we caught up with Jenn Roberts-Uhlig, the assistant commissioner in charge of the sport, to talk about key modifications to the sport in order to ensure it complies with state guidelines around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Question: How will things look different this season?

Roberts-Uhlig: Typically, a season will have 11 meets, and that has been reduced to seven. We have shortened the season by two weeks in order to have our state championship event completed prior to the late-fall moratorium.

In working with the Governor's COVID Response Team and other health agencies, we worked together to get cross country up and running within the established guidelines. These guidelines allow us to have starts in waves of no more than 25, with a minimum of two minutes between the waves starting.

Regular season races can have no more than 50 participants total. At regionals, there will be no more than 75 total. At the state meet, it's 100 per classification, per gender.

Start and finish lines could look different, and we've approved time-trial starts.

Truly, for cross country — and really, for all of our sports — it is very important that coaches, teams and community members abide by the state guidelines to ensure safety and risk minimization for athletes, and to allow us to finish the season. That's not just for the regular season. Everyone is going to have to follow these guidelines.

This means things like wearing masks, appropriate social distancing, and not congregating in one area. The start and finish areas may look different for spectators, as well.

Q: What about masks?

Roberts-Uhlig: Athletes are going to be required to have a mask at the start line. As they proceed into a part of the course where they aren't around a mass of people, they can remove the mask, but it must be back on at the finish line.

Spectators are going to be required to wear a mask at all times. They need to social distance outside of their family units. Again, we need everyone to follow these guidelines to ensure we can finish the season.

Q: We've already heard about schools moving away from big invitationals and are instead planning dual, triangular, and quad meets. Can you expand on that?

Roberts-Uhlig: Yes, and this is allowed so long as they meet the requirements of 50 athletes per race.

This season, we expect to see more of those types of meets as everyone navigates trying to stay within the maximum athletes allowed, and trying to limit the amount of teams participating.

Also, as league meets and big invitationals navigate this, they are looking at setting up multi-day meets, such as having two races of 50 per day.

Q: What about the postseason? What is that going to look like?

Roberts-Uhlig: Qualifying into regionals will look different. We'll have more information on this soon.

State will continue to be held at Norris Penrose Event Center on Oct. 17. There will be plenty of time in between races to allow for a transition.

We are now putting classifications together at the state meet, so, for example, 4A girls and 4A boys will run back-to-back. As soon as those races are over, those participants, coaches and spectators will exit the venue, and the next classification will come in following a buffer of at least an hour. We need to be sure they're cleared out between races.

Doing this will allow us to have 100 participants, per classification, per gender at the state event.

Q: Are you seeing schools add cross country this fall?

Roberts-Uhlig: Yes, we have had about 10 schools add a program. In addition, existing programs are seeing a lot more kids come out within their school.

In general, the cross country community is growing as kids are finding that this is a way to participate this fall, and that's exciting to see.