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For high schools, call it winter track in the year of the pandemic

Huntington boys track team members prepare for the

Huntington boys track team members prepare for the upcoming outdoor winter season. Credit: Dawn McCormick

Over the years, a playful semantics argument has raged across the high school track scene from December to March. Is it called indoor track or winter track? Some are staunch supporters of one or the other. Some use it interchangeably.

This year, there will be no debate. It is, most definitely, winter track. Track, in the winter.

Little is the same after a year that has seen high school sports rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last spring season was cancelled. This fall, cross country was postponed until March in the public schools, leaving only the CHSAA to compete.

This winter, although public schools will be competing, little will resemble the traditional indoor track season. First, drop the indoor. Suffolk teams will compete in five outdoor dual meets — that is, two teams competing head-to-head on weekends, without a postseason, said Suffolk boys and girls track coordinator Tony Toro.

Running events will be completed head –to-head and hand-timed, while field events will potentially be competed virtually. That is, teams will do their jumping and shot putting at their own schools prior to the running events and then, on the honor system, trade results to see whose numbers are superior. While this is a possibility, Toro said Wednesday that this portion of the plan is not set in stone yet.

Toro said that all typical indoor events will be offered outdoors, except for the pole vault and weight throw. Only 30 athletes per team will be allowed at meets, but that could potentially change, Toro said.

In Nassau, meets will be outdoor and completely virtual for the first two weeks of the season, followed by a combination of in-person and virtual outdoor meets, depending on the preferences of individual schools, said Nassau girls track coordinator Kristin Frazer. Meets will mostly be a combination of dual, tri, and quad meets and will be unscored, Frazer said.

"Our main objectives are to keep kids and coaches healthy and safe and to provide athletes with the opportunity to be socially emotionally engaged and physically active on a daily basis," Frazer said.

Nassau will offer the weight throw, Frazer said.

The CHSAA will hold three scaled down, outdoor invitational-type meets, said Don Buckley, the CHSAA winter track and field chairman. The first meet will concentrate on distance events, the second meet will concentrate on sprinters, and the third meet is yet to be determined. Field events will be competed live. The league plans to hold a championship meet at the end of the season, Buckley said.

Some Suffolk field athletes are not pleased with the idea of a virtual meet format. Shoreham-Wading River high jumper Blake Wehr said the lack of physical competition will dramatically alter the mood and adrenaline factor associated with his event, which is often spurred on by a room full of rhythmically clapping spectators and a general sense of ‘anything you can do, I can do better.’

Call it the Annie Oakley effect.

"I think it’s horrible," Wehr said. "I’m undoubtedly, 100 percent against it…Seeing another person jump and clear or miss a bar is huge for me."

But, the idea of running outside in the winter season is not entirely foreign to many Long Island athletes. Many teams practice all winter on their outdoor track. The difference, however, will be the stakes. It may be freezing cold on a Wednesday in January, but that’s only a workout. What about when the strides are timed and the final numbers actually mean something?

"Working out in it isn’t necessarily something new," Westhampton distance runner Gavin Ehlers said. "But, racing and going all out is going to be a different bread."

Ehlers said that distance runners may have to be selective in their race choices, based on how furious the winds are blowing.

"One day you could have 30-40 mile per hour winds on an open track. That’s not exactly conducive to a fast time," he said. "I think the conditions are going to play a big factor in terms of where you’re going to try and go all out in these meets to try and run fast….One day, I might run a two mile and a mile as a workout, as opposed to picking one and racing it hard if the weather is not conducive to running fast."

But, this has been done before. In fact, winter meets in Suffolk were held outdoors until the early to mid-1980’s, according to longtime Shoreham-Wading River girls track coach Paul Koretzki.

Most of those meets, Koretzki said, were competed in December when weather is a tad warmer than January.

"They were fine, as long as it was 35 degrees or above," Koretzki said. "The meets went very quickly. I had no problems with them, the kids had no problems with them."

Koretzki continued: "I remember one time, we shoveled the track and had an invitational with three lanes on the turn and six lanes for the 55…We survived those meets. They weren’t bad."

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