Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on how area cross country teams are coping with the new workout guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Cross country runners across the county have been more fortunate than athletes who compete in other sports. The individual aspect of the sport allowed them to continue to train on their own despite being away from school and their teammates.
Despite that, they are still working to prepare for a season that could look much different than the one they competed in last fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Lakeside head coach Jeff Haynes said that after 13 years of coaching the sport, he has had to adjust his coaching style with the return of his athletes.
"I'm starting my 14th year of coaching, and for 13 of those years in cross country I've said, 'Run in a pack, run in a pack,' and now I'm saying, 'Spread out, spread out,'" he said. "We just hope we get to have a season. I think tennis, golf and cross country, we should be able to social distance and still compete. It's gonna be tougher for football and volleyball, but I just hope they let the ones that can."
In every aspect of the team's scheduled workouts, Haynes said he and his coaching staff are dedicating as much time and energy as needed to ensure proper adherence to the guidelines set forth by the Arkansas Activities Association because "it just takes one positive test to get the campus shutdown for two weeks."
"We started back in June, and we're following the guidelines. ... Coaching staff wear masks the entire time at practice, and every kid that gets out of a car has to have their mask on when they report to practice," he added. "I actually bring a tape measure, and I measure out six feet and set cones up so they get an (idea) of what six feet is, and I make sure that they stay at six feet with their mask on until we start practice. Any time that we're standing around visiting, we're constantly (saying), 'Hey, spread out.' We do the windmill test where everybody puts their arms out to make sure that no one can touch anyone else's fingertips. That's our easiest gauge of six-feet separation."
One of the most difficult aspects of coaching the runners is keeping them 12 feet apart while they are running.
"The biggest ruckus is staying 12 feet apart while they're actually working out," he explained. "We're doing that by staggered starts, by gender. I'll start my varsity boys, then I'll start my varsity girls. Then I'll start my junior high boys, then I'll start my junior high girls. ... They get out at different times, and we're just trying to survive. ... As far as the coaches go, we have to take our temperature every morning. Our nurses are actually set up by the field house, and we go by there, they take our temps, and we do all the screenings."
Despite some minimal complications that have arisen as a result of the new guidelines, Haynes foresees a positive outcome for Lakeside athletes who are becoming more accustomed to COVID-19 concerns as schools and students prepare the upcoming academic year.
"When we start back to school in August, at least the athletes will have that training of what six feet is and what social distancing is," he noted. "With cross country, it is ... individuals, but with team-scoring events. ... Our kids are doing a very good job of doing what they're supposed to do.
"Sometimes it's a little difficult because I have a lot of siblings on the team. I'll look up and there will be two brothers beside each other, and I'll say, 'Hey, y'all need to spread out! But wait, y'all are brothers and have been together this whole time.'"
While Lakeside has been able to get its cross country team out and practicing together, the team at Fountain Lake, which will be competing for its second season, has yet to have any organized practices this summer due to low numbers.
Despite this, athletic director and cross country coach Marc Davis anticipates one dedicated runner in particular will still achieve great things this fall in her senior campaign.
"We're a little bit different because we just started it up last year, so we don't have a huge program like some of the other schools in the county," he explained. "But we've got one girl that's really, really good named Brooke Wyatt. Brooke's been working on her own all summer, well since March since her track season went away. That hurt a lot for her, but she's a volleyballer, too, so she's running as much as she needs to and has a plan for the return. I know she's working with (retired Lake Hamilton head) coach (Karl) Koonce a little bit."
Davis said that while cross country is a "no-contact" sport, he is concerned about how things will progress once the runners take to a course.
"It's gonna be difficult when they start running meets," he pointed out. "In cross country, they're pretty close to one another. They say it's a non-contact sport, but man, at those starts, it's a contact sport. When you're 2.5 miles in and you're slinging sweat everywhere, I don't know what they're gonna do. We'll just wait and see what their guidance is."
Davis is unsure what the level of participation will look like for the team this year coming off last season's f ive-person roster.
"She's taken it upon herself to get ready for cross country," Davis noted. "We have a few other kids that are involved, but they're also in other sports, too, so they're just working on their own. ... Brooke is the one that has excelled, and we basically started a program around her last year. And I know she's looking forward to running this fall and then of course over the winter into the spring, so we're looking forward for her."