How does sport of cross country stay on course?
Mark Lipinsky is the chief executive officer and race director of the Youngstown Marathon, and he coordinated the Freedom 4-miler which was run at the Canfield Fairgrounds on July 4 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Runners were required to remain in their car until 15 minutes before their heat of 50 runners left to run the 4 miles around the one-way course at the fairgrounds. After the runners finished, they were asked not to congregate, to pick up a bottle of water and leave.
The state of Ohio and the Ohio High School Athletic Association do not consider high school cross country a non-contact sport. That leaves school officials and coaches to determine how to have runners remain socially distanced in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lipinsky, who is part of Second Sole Racing, ran the 4-miler himself. Some area high school cross country runners also ran on July 4 at the Fairgrounds.
Lipinsky said he met with some area athletic directors and cross country coaches recently. He said they want to give a venue to these runners, some way, somehow. If the schools cannot host meets this year due to local health board regulations, Lipinsky said they could host races elsewhere.
“Is it going to be a little bit different? Sure, but that’s because of the times we’re in right now,” Lipinsky said. “The positive of all of it, we’re going to have opportunities, we’re going to continue to create where we can get people out, get people together in a safe way and create these opportunities where you can go run, walk and do these things you like to do, even if it is a little bit different now.”
Look for small groups of teams with plenty of space available, staying contact-free.
“Our timing system is nice because we’ll give pre-programmed chips to coaches that are on the runner’s bib,” Lipinsky said. “They can line up on the line, run their race, cross the finish line and be done, completely hands-free, no touching anything. That makes it streamlined and very easy for coaches and athletes alike, where they can go and compete in a safe way and not have to worry about anything coming in contact with the other runners or participants.
“OHSAA guidelines state there should not be more than 100 runners at a time. We will continue to follow the overarching guidelines of the Mahoning County Health Board, which right now is limited to 50 runners at a time. We will do everything we can to follow the rules and create a safe environment for runners and participants alike.”
Dave Pavlansky, who is the meet manager of the Boardman Spartan Invitational, is waiting to meet with Boardman High School athletic director Marco Marinucci.
Thus far, all Suburban League races and the East Palestine Rotary Invitational have been called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The only thing I’m certain of is there can’t be 6,000 competitors and 20,000 spectators that day,” Pavlansky said. “I can’t see the health department, the school or my own conscience doing something like that. We are hopeful that we can pull something off with a limited participation.
“Things are changing, there is a whole lot to do to make something go. I don’t want to speak on the Invitational specifically, because it’s too much in flux. Being the meet manager, I don’t want to put the wrong idea out there that people read into anything that I might say.”
Ted Rupe, who runs Gopher Running and does plenty of road races and cross country meets around the area, has been contacted by plenty of potential clients wanting to run.
The OHSAA requires all cross country meets to have fully automated timing for each race. Rupe’s Gopher Running provides that service to area runners.
“I’m either going to have this crazy, crazy fall where I have no free time, to everything shutting down and there will be no meets,” he said. “Of course, nobody knows the answer to that. It’s the same with all the sports.
“We’re preparing for what we hope to be a good season and also understanding it could go the other direction and nothing could happen. I hope everybody is being as safe as they possibly can and keep the outbreak from getting worse.”
How many people can safely go on the starting line? The OHSAA said meets should consider staggered starts. That means more mats in place, not only at the finish, but at the beginning to pick up the electronic timing.
Staggered starts of individuals during a race seems the way to go, keeping them moving through the finish area. Runners cannot gather at the end.
“You have to let the kids run through and pretty much tell them to keep moving,” Rupe said. “You may have water set out at tables past the finish line. You have medics there. If somebody goes down, the medics are going to have to be in gear to handle the person and get them away from the finish area.”
Lipinsky said Second Sole Racing is holding the Heat Wave 5K at the Canfield Fairgrounds on Aug. 23.
“We’ve got everything mapped out on how to do it safely,” Lipinsky said. “We’re going to continue to generate events and put things together that we can in a safe way. We’d like the community to come out and participate.”
The 22nd annual Clipper Summer Series also is set to continue with three different races — starting at 6 p.m., 6:30, 7 — on Wednesday evenings, July 29, Aug. 5, Aug. 12 and Aug. 19.
Columbiana coach Crystal Boggs said the races will be held on the 3K middle school course, rather than the 5K high school course.
Participants must register at and more information is available at www.secondsoleracing.com.