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Northeast-8 runners to illuminate the night

Kim Grisdale noticed the excitement a few of her runners had last season, returning from a cross country race in southern Ohio.

It wasn’t an ordinary race. Those runners decided to race in a night race instead of going to Poland’s High School homecoming.

This year, in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, they don’t have a choice. No in-person homecoming.

The Northeast-8 Conference meet would’ve been on the same day as Poland’s homecoming, so there was no reason to start races in the morning so the runners had time to prepare for the evening affairs.

Grisdale, the Poland cross country coach, saw the newly formed course in Poland Township Park almost every day. The transformed quarry pit became one of the most fan-friendly courses in the area. It is also a humid venue since the trees are still saplings, and there is no shade on the course, which is in its second season. The Poland course has hosted a couple of meets this year and last.

“We thought when we were setting up for small meets this year, ‘Man, it’s so nice when we’re getting toward the end of sunlight.'” Grisdale said. “It’s so much easier to breathe. After a really late night, I was out there past sundown.”

How about a night race for this year’s NE-8 Meet? It’s going to happen this Saturday starting at 6:30 p.m., with the middle school girls, followed by the boys. The varsity girls race starts at 7:30 p.m., followed by the boys at 8 p.m. Grisdale said sunset is slated for 7:12 p.m.

The memo to teams from Girard, Hubbard, Jefferson, Lakeview, Niles, Poland, South Range and Struthers said “All The Stars Are Out Tonight.” The light towers will be there as well. She said there’s about seven to nine lights illuminating the course for the runners.

“They’re pretty powerful,” Grisdale said. “Their claim is you can read a book from 100 yards away. It was on top of the hill and we were walking down in the valley. It was like daylight down there. You could see every blade of grass, extremely high visibility.

“Our parent, who bought in right away, thinks we can use just seven lights, but we’ll have nine there. We’ll start setup on Wednesday, kind of testing everything out. Obviously, we want it to be extremely safe. It is a conference championship, so we want to keep the integrity of a conference championship. We want it to be very fun, obviously. It’s still something hopefully the kids will really enjoy.”

There are no more than 82 runners in each of the four races on Saturday evening.

NE-8 commissioner Rob Conklin said all eight schools are 100 percent behind this event.

“We don’t have to stagger our starts,” Conklin said. “It’s a compact, small enough event to fall within the OHSAA, or more importantly, the Ohio Department of Health guidelines. It’s going to be a traditional cross country meet in that regard.

“Add to that the uniqueness of running ‘under the lights’ and it will be a really cool experience for everybody. We’ve cautioned fans. We’ve cautioned the kids as far as all the COVID requirements. We have complete and total approval from the Mahoning County Board of Health to move forward with our plans. We’re extremely excited.”

The Timing Crew, a group headed by John Jeren, was supposed to time the NE-8 Meet Saturday. Since the meet is an evening affair, Jeren called Ted Rupe, who runs Gopher Running, since Rupe has chip timing. Jeren has finish-line timing, which is run on video assistance and wouldn’t work for night races.

“We know Ted’s commitment to cross country,” Conklin said. “Thank goodness we have people like John Jeren and Ted Rupe to make these things happen, particularly under these circumstances. We’re all looking forward to a great night. All the stars will be out. It should be fun.”

Grisdale insists that this year’s event is just for this season.

“We think it would make this year special because there are so many usual things about this season,” she said. “We thought it would be a neat way to make it special.”

Considering there’s not much else going on for these athletes on a Saturday night, why not spend it in a unique way?

“We’re really excited,” Grisdale said. “We think it could be so different, a fun experience. It could be something totally unique. It could take the place of homecoming. I’m not much for dances, I suppose. I think I’d much rather have a race at night than have a homecoming dance, personally. I don’t know how all the kids feel.”

They’ll find out on Saturday.

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