October 27th, 2020, marked a return to in-person training for Culver City High School’s cross country team, one of the first alongside the school’s football and water polo teams to be allowed to resume after social distancing caused by COVID-19.
The practice was marked by a strict adherence to a set of health protocols, put into place In lieu of access to actual coronavirus tests. Before arriving at Lindberg Park, the team’s training site, students were asked to answer a set of health-related questions via a screening app that would determine their ability to attend practice. Upon arrival, students had their temperatures taken before separating into two socially distanced pods. Within these pods, students were expected to stay a minimum of eight feet apart, and were allowed to run at staggered intervals of approximately 30 seconds. While running, students were only allowed to unmask if there was nobody within their vicinity; if a pedestrian or biker passed them along the way, then they needed to keep their mask on.
With the school’s health code mandating no more than 25 runners on campus at a time, only around 17 out of the team’s nearly one hundred members were allowed to attend the initial practice. This total comprised the team’s varsity runners, as well as any siblings they had who were also enrolled in the program. Siblings were put into the same pod, which were structured by fastest to slowest in order to prevent runners from passing each other and risking exposure.
Each pod was presided over by either coache Steven Heyl or Tom Fritzius, both who had worked hard over the previous months to ensure a safe return for cross country. Also watching the runners was Athletics Director Tom Salter, for whom the team’s success is essential in allowing for a return for Culver City’s other athletic programs.
For CCHS, of course, success is largely defined by an absence of COVID-19 among the runners, who are willingly risking their health to train with their teammates. Some students, citing this fear, have already opted out of training altogether – something that played a factor in the coaching staff’s decision to allow younger siblings to train in nearly all-varsity pods.
While the initial practice seemed to progress without any hiccups, a more stringent test should follow in the coming weeks. Perhaps encouraged by early success, CCHS notified the team on October 30th that up to four new pods of about six to nine runners could be added. These pods would train on alternate days: one half would train on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each pod would also begin practice at 45 minute intervals, to better ensure lack of exposure.
The actual cross country season is expected to resume some time around January, a prospect that should bring about its own challenges. The team remains hopeful that runners can prepare sufficiently for the upcoming meets, and most importantly stay healthy while doing so.