Petersburg High School’s cross country team at the race course near Green’s Camp during a virtual meet. (Photo by Debby Eddy)

While some high schools in Southeast Alaska have skipped their whole cross country season this year others have been competing in mostly virtual meets. However, the regional meet for Southeast’s Division 3 will be held in-person this weekend in Petersburg. As Angela Denning reports, runners will be able to use the same course but not at the same time.

The regional meet was supposed to be in Ketchikan this year but a lot of plans have changed because of COVID cases in the region. However, Petersburg is hosting an in-person meet for the region’s small 1 and 2A schools this weekend. The race course will be about 25 miles south of Petersburg at a camp site.

The cross country teams are arriving to the island by boat and by plane and they will be driven directly to the race course. They won’t be stopping in town.

“No intermingling of the teams that come into town. It’s get in, do the thing, and get out,” said Jaime Cabral, Athletics Director for the Petersburg School District.

He says the runners will never cross paths. The teams will be running the course separately.

“They won’t even see each other which is really weird, for that piece,” Cabral said. “And a lot of them are like, ‘Man, you know, if I’m running with another team it kind of pushes me a little bit’. So that mentality of ‘if there is someone in front of me then I got to push’ but the overall emphasis is that we still get to run and we have the same course.”

Instead of a normal two-hour meet the event will last for 24 hours, starting Friday afternoon and finishing Saturday afternoon.

The Petersburg School District had a seven page mitigation plan approved by the local Emergency Operations Center, which is responding to COVID. It includes details like no spectators being allowed at the meet.  All of the course ushers will be wearing masks and they won’t be collecting bibs at the finish line.  

There will be fewer runners participating than past years. Usually there are about 160 athletes running at the same time from 14 different schools.  This year, there will be about half a dozen schools participating. Some of the region’s small schools are skipping the sport altogether this fall, some teams can’t travel because of COVID cases in their communities and others have COVID mitigation policies that do not allow their teams to travel period.

Cabral says because Southeast is a network of islands, high school teams can not travel in the same controlled environment like they could if they were riding in a bus on the road system.

“Here it’s weather, travel, boat,” Cabral said. “Do some schools really want to touch Alaska Airlines? Do they want to go on Alaska Marine Highway and try to mitigate things that kind of sometimes is out of their control?”

The regional meet will decide who goes on to the state meet. Typically, there would be about 100 runners from Southeast’s smaller schools heading to state. To cut down on numbers this year, only the top 14 boys and 14 girls can qualify from small schools in Southeast. There are no teams allowed to go to state this year.

But a lot can happen between now and the state meet October 10 in Anchorage, says Petersburg’s Head Coac, Tommy Thompson.

“We go day to day,” he said.  “We all know that at any point, our community, our school, ASAA [Alaska School Activities Association] or the City of Anchorage could just say, ‘We just don’t think it’s a good idea,’ and I guess it’s that thing of being fully present. We’re going to live for today, we’re going to have a great practice today, and hopefully a great meet this weekend and I think we just need to enjoy it.”

He says the team is focusing on staying healthy. He says the runners are working on maintaining their family social bubbles because it would only take one COVID case on the team to shut them down.

Teams participating this weekend include Petersburg, Wrangell, Klawock, Craig, Hoonah, and Gustavus. Runners will be on a course at Green’s Camp Friday and Saturday and they are asking the public to avoid the area.

EDITOR’s NOTE: This story was updated Oct. 1. The Petersburg School District is still on “green status” despite the community case of COVID-19, announced Oct. 1. The meet is still scheduled as planned.