San Diego Section On Track To Start Cross Country Feb. 6

SAN DIEGO -- Track and field hurdlers know the feeling.

Looking down the straightaway at row upon row of barriers, you can't even see the finish line.

But the answer, coaches tell you, is to get over that first hurdle and set your sights on the second. Don't worry about the others until they come up and then focus.

That's kind of like what cross country coaches across the state felt Monday after the state withdrew its "Stay at Home" order in place since late 2020 because of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, the race has finally begun, the first of several hurdles cleared, and what at times seemed like there would be no cross country season until fall of 2021, might actually still happen this winter.

It'll start a little later in San Diego than the other sections because commissioner Joe Heinz just last week pushed the start date for practice in cross country back to Feb. 1 from Jan. 25, a wise move considering the number of cases certainly didn't seem to be shrinking despite four mass-produced vaccines recently becoming more available.

But, it will start and it'll be the first interscholastic activity in any sport since mid-March, almost a year ago.

Cross country, swimming/diving and even field hockey will be able to start first because those sports have been deemed low risk by the California Department of Public Health despite San Diego County -- and most of the state -- in the state's purple/widespread tier. Those sports were OK'd for competition even if counties are in the most restrictive tier because they're outdoor sports where social distancing, especially cross country, appears fairly easy to manage.

The next step will be for the County Health Department to determine that enough progress is being made to allow more competition and various city entities to open facilities like parks to offer more than dual meets, which is what has already been approved once the "Stay at Home" order was lifted.

With that in mind, Heinz said the emphasis will be on dual meets until later in the season leading up to the section championships on March 27.

"With the start date of Feb. 1, it means we could have meets as early as Feb. 6 since we need five days of practice prior to the first competition," said Heinz, who admitted to being very excited to have cross country, swimming and diving and even field hockey starting soon.

"We are hoping to have quad and cluster meets down the line but for starters it's dual meets.

"We are planning on having the section championships. We're prepared to do whatever it takes, to be flexible. We have some time to make that decision but we will have the championships. We want to make sure we're completely ready.

"Obviously, we're obliged to follow all of the guidelines. We want kids back but safely. Kids competing, that's what we've been waiting for, so we're prepared to shift on a dime if we need to."


There have been no shortage of possibilities for conducting the five divisions, boys and girls, including having one gender run one day and the other another to having five different sites and having just two races-one boys and one girls-in each division.

The preference, of course, would be to keep the format of having all the boys and girls at one site on one day.

The CIF-State Meet has already been cancelled, as have major multi-school meets like the Mt. Carmel Invitational.

Still, most coaches will tell you that with the Coronavirus numbers going up in December, it seemed as though the entire renovated state Season 1, which includes football, might be eliminated and even the Season 2 sports appeared threatened.

Dual meets are better than no meets and if the numbers of Coronavirus cases diminish, league and section championships are better than nothing.  Plus, it gives added hope for a full track and field season.

Heinz said that there has been a lot of research into how numerous states, like Arizona, that had a full fall season of sport, adjusted and some of those procedures might be employed.

He also noted that previous rules, like limiting outside section competition to bordering sections would also remain, although he expected few schools to consider taking road trips to the likes of Orange or Riverside County, which border the section to the north.

The Imperial Valley to the East is already part of the San Diego Section.

"Listen, we're just hoping for a return to normalcy," said Heinz, who at this time a year ago was just one of several candidates for the section commissioner job.  He took over in July and has not been to a single athletic contest in the section.

"We're going to make it work."

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Photos by DeAnna Turner, Clark Kranz and Jeffrey Parenti