XC Teams Facing Off-season Uncertainty Head On

By Florida MileSplit Correspondent -- Dominique Smith

COVID-19 has caused a great deal of uncertainty as to what the offseason will look like for cross country teams in the state of Florida.

As coaches and athletes wait for the official word as to when they are allowed to train as a team, we reached out to a few coaches around the state to hear how they're dealing with the unknown.

Ryan Lowe, who is the head coach of the boy's cross country team at Lake Mary High School describes the past couple of months as quite the experience. Lowe said that he and his team have high expectations for the upcoming season, and he's hoping that his team can start training in the summer or at least in small groups over the summer.

He also hopes that in order to protect the athletes, the FHSAA will consider any changes made in the offseason schedule and adjust the regular season schedule accordingly.

"The last thing I want is for a kid to think is that I can't start practice in July, so I have to really up my miles, especially if they're a new kid and they get hurt in September because of too many miles," he said. "..I just don't want to see any of the kids get hurt."

Edwin McTureous, the head cross country coach and Athletic Director at Oak Hall School in Gainesville admits that the most difficult part for him is the unknown.

"Definitely a difficult time, but it's something that is out of everyone's control," he said.

The school has a task force that is looking into how athletics will be run over the summer and will adjust and make decisions accordingly as they receive more information from the local government. He and other coaches have used Zoom to communicate with the athletes and to check in on their well-being. Despite the uncertainty heading into the summer months, McTureous is confident that his team will train on their own and do some of their summer training until they can finally meet as a team or in small groups.

The pandemic has given McTureous a greater appreciation in his role as the overseer of athletics at Oak Hall.

"It does make me appreciate the job that I'm in working with young student athletes," he said. when you're not around them and you're not able to work with them for as long as we've been out now, it does make me appreciate my job even more."

In Miami-Dade County, the Greater Miami Athletic Conference informed coaches that teams that teams are not allowed to gather together and train, despite the reopening of parks.

Head cross country coach Eric Pino of Christopher Columbus High School says that his team has been using the Strava running and cycling app and that it's helped to keep the rivalry and engagement going between his athletes.

"During the track season we moved towards using Strava a lot as coaches and it's actually been a great tool," he said. "..Strava is a good tool to use as coaches for our sake and for them amongst each other."

Pino admits that everything has been complicated for him over the past couple of months, but his offseason training regimen for his team gives him comfort.

"We're pretty conservative with our training and we spend our summer logging miles," he said. "..Summer is mileage, so for us, you can get by on your own, it's not ideal and it's not what we want, but they're not missing that component of coaching."

In Brevard County, the Brevard Public School administration made the decision to prohibit coaches from working with their athletes until the end of June.

Their decision didn't sit well with Doug Butler, the head coach of Satellite High School's cross country team in Satellite Beach. He calls the decision from BPS absurd.

"I just don't get why they're allowing coaches to work with their kids because the kids are out running...I'm dumbfounded," he said.

Butler says that his team leaders are taking the reins of their summer training schedule that he sent out to the team. He says the girl's cross country team logs its miles on the Strava app.

He has his own running camp, Set Goals, Not Limits Running Camp that he plans on conducting in July, but where his team is concerned, Butler has reached out to the BPS school board, hoping that they will reconsider their timeline, which will allow the team to run in June.

"You know the good kids are going to be out running, so why not have them supervised," he said.

Oviedo head coach Dave Tibbetts is still optimistic that there will be a season and is carrying that hopeful attitude into an offseason with more questions than answers.

"That's what gives me hope, just the hope that there will be (a season)," he said. "..Right now, I'm being optimistic and being hopeful, we're going into this with the mindset of we're going to have a season, we're going to have a great season, we're going to come out of this as state champs. There's no doubt in my mind, that's the way we're going about this."