Cross Country: Individual, Team or both?, from Dave Frank, Note by Larry Eder

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Nike NXC, December 2009, photo by Kirby Lee

It seems that, if the OSAA discussion goes ahead on cross country, a well meaning, but ignorant and damaging form of political correctness could damage the sport of cross country forever. And, 16,000 cross country coaches across the U.S., if this happens in Oregon, it is only a matter of time before it comes up in your state! I believe it was the late Cardinal Fulton Sheen who said, " I do not fear someone who has read many books, I fear someone who has read one book." Well, welcome to our new world. Somehow, someone in OSAA, as Dave Frank says so eloquently below, got into their brain matter that cross country needs to be either a team or an individual sport, in order to be equitable.

When the late Sam Adams stared at me and bellowed, " Do you know what coaches really are? THEY ARE EDUCATORS!" Adams was right. Athletics teaches life lessons. Any of my contemporaries, who have careers ranging from sales, to legal to education, all say the same thing: our sport experiences changed their lives, for the better.

Please read this, and please, take five minutes away from the web porn or ESPN scores and comment on this! Make your opinion known!

Hello all –

A few items regarding the OSAA XC discussion…

1) It has become apparent that there is more behind this discussion than cost cutting. In Oregon most sports are designated as “team” or “individual”. In team sports (baseball, football, basketball, soccer, volleyball), schools qualify whole teams to state competition; in individual sports (tennis, wrestling, track & field, swimming), schools qualify only individuals to state competition, and, while team trophies are awarded, these trophies are decided based upon the scoring of each of these individuals.

Cross country (and golf – which is also in the discussion) currently qualify both teams and individuals to state competition. This is the crux of the OSAA discussion (although it may certainly be true that this is a subterfuge to the money issue) – that someone somewhere sees this as inherently inequitable in the system of “team sports” vs. “individual sports”.

Of course, it’s obvious to all cross country folk that our sport is inherently different, and the reasons that do not allow whole swim teams or track teams or wrestling teams – with all of the events/weight classes/etc… simply do not apply to our sport. Cross country need not be seen as one or the other, and it’s clear that both parts are valuable.

2) I’ve read a number of comments via e-mail or on the petition (which has been signed by over 1600 people, including former USATF President Bill Roe, ESPN Commentator Toni Reavis, former Georgetown and Farm Team Coach Frank Gagliano, Pre Classic Promoter Tom Jordan). A great number of these comments have made me appreciate even more what I love about our sport.

The letter below, from North Salem Coach Michael T. Smith to the OSAA, is worth sharing.

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As far as I'm concerned, OSAA need never pay my way into another athletic contest, buy me or my athletes another meal, much less put us up for the night.

What I do expect from OSAA, as a moral minimum, is to continue to provide a State Championship Meet worth aspiring to, qualifying for, competing in.

To qualify for the State Meet as an individual rather than as a team, believe me, is a consolation prize; it beats not going at all, but it's the athletic equivalent of going to the prom without a date.

One of the ironies of war, it has been revealed by interviewing WWII vets, is that many regard it as the best experience of their lives. This because of the intense bonding, the dear love of comrade born of shared struggle, risk, sacrifice and accountability stemming from absolute commitment to each other not to let one's buddies down, whenever one might otherwise have been be tempted to quit.

The phrase The Moral Equivalent of War was born of the quest to find another way to make available such a profoundly enriching, morally fulfilling experience without the concomitant slaughter. Can't we provide our young people with such a crucible to forge their mature characters short of sending them into combat?

Team athletics is our answer. To restrict it to the very most talented individuals would make it more equivalent to a gladiatorial spectacle. God knows we need no more of that.

Cross-Country is the purest expression in athletics, I would argue, of shared maximum mutual endeavor. The strength of the wolf, it is said, resides in the pack, and equally, the strength of the pack resides in each wolf. That is as simply as I can put what Cross-Country is all about.

To reduce that noble chase to a running of any number of lone wolves deprives it of its essential meaning. It is to cut our hamstrings and bid us run. After a few years of pointless hobbling, the sport would, for all intents and purposes, be finished.

Some may remember a time when the University of Oregon had decided it could not afford to send its qualifying team to the NCAA Championships, but only to send overall favorite for the individual title,indeed the defending champion, Steve Prefontaine. He refused to go without his teammates, the University relented, and the team brought back the NCAA title. A great champion, yes, but infinitely more importantly, a great and principled teammate, he who of all runners, could have prospered as a lone wolf.

It is to be hoped that out of this whole painful episode will come some woefully overdue understanding of, and respect for our sport. We have never asked for much, not cheerleaders,not lighted stadiums, not pep assemblies, not artificial turf.. Nor, sad to say, our rightful share of respect. Just let us run with our pack.

Our school, facing a major overhaul, will be completely off-limits to any and all personnel from the last day of school this spring probably until almost Labor Day. Consequently, our AD called a meeting with all coaches to find alternative practice venues and make arrangements for off-campus storage of necessary equipment. He went around to each coach in turn and made detailed notes of accommodations that would be required.

When he came to me, I told him our needs were zero. We needed no access whatsoever to our school's facilities until after the start of school, and truth be told, not even then. We don't ask for much.

Just let us run with our pack.

Thanks for your attention.

Michael T. Smith, Co-Head Cross-Country Coach, North Salem High School

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Thanks for all of your support; keep up the good fight.

Dave Frank

Central Catholic High School
Founded in 1939 "Where intellect and spirit are nurtured in a diverse community."

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