The first major interscholastic event in the CNMI since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us will kick off next month with the staging of the 2020-2021 Public School System/Northern Marianas Athletics All Schools Cross Country Series.
Nick Gross, director of the PSS Student Support Services Athletic Program, was quick to point out that this season’s cross country event will be like no other, as safety of students and other stakeholders is the top priority. Restrictions will be strictly implemented to minimize if not fully prevent the risk of the spread of the virus.
Gross and the NMA board have drafted safety measures and protocols for the meet and a proposal has been submitted to the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force and is now waiting for approval.
On top of the organizers’ safety guidelines is limiting the number of participants per school. A series of qualifying races are also scheduled and schools and age groups competition are spread out to minimize crowding at the meet venue—the CPA Airport Field.
Each school is limited to six participants for every qualifying race, which will begin on Nov. 6. The first qualifier is for elementary (co-ed) with age groups including K-5, U7, U9, and U11. The 4:15pm start time is for Saipan International School, Brilliant Star School, Koblerville Elementary School, William S. Reyes Elementary School, and Saipan Community School. For the 5pm race, runners from Agape Christian School will compete against San Vicente, Kagan, Mt. Carmel School, and Isla Montessori. The same schools will continue the qualifying races on Nov. 13 and 20.
For the Nov. 7, 14, and 21 qualifiers, it will be the turn of the middle school (U12 and U14 age groups) and high school (U18) runners to hit the road. Races are also clustered by schools with the 6:30am race set for SIS, Agape, Marianas High School, and Mt. Carmel in the U18 girls division and followed by the boys group. The middle school runners from SIS, Agape, Francisco M. Sablan, Hopwood Middle School, Mt. Carmel, and SCS.
The qualifiers are slated to determine the runners that will advance to the elementary, middle school, and high school championship races, which are also scheduled separately. The elementary finals will take place on Dec. 4 (4:30pm), while the middle school and high school championship races will be held on Dec. 5, 6:30am for U18 and 7:20am for U14 runners.
In every race, runners are encouraged to observe social distancing measures. They will start in 12-foot wide pre-marked boxes, 6 feet away from each other and 3 feet from the inside of the box, and coaches are urged to put fast runners on the front spots. The course will also be widened to at least 6 feet at its narrowest point to maintain runners’ distance as they navigate their way to the turning point and back to the start/finish line.
Once a runner has completed the course, he/she will be asked to leave the premises. No handshakes before and after the races and bibs will be issued to schools ahead of time to avoid or limit personal interaction during the event. Temperatures will be checked on race day and coaches are encouraged to do the same when holding practices.
The cross country races are part of NMA and PSS’ joint events and usually attract hundreds of runners as before the pandemic there were no limits on the number of students allowed to compete in the qualifiers.
“Although this year’s competitions will be much different than years past due to the pandemic, I fully believe that we can ensure a safe, fun experience for all,” Gross said.