Sure, cross country runners trekking about Polk County’s campus four days before Christmas seemed an oddity typical of this pandemic-plagued year.
But as coaches and teammates yelled encouragement, their shouts easily echoing across the largely-quiet campus, the eyes of Wolverine coach Alan Peoples brightened to no doubt accompany the smile beneath his mask.
“Just the fact that we are out here, and you can hear kids running and hear how it is going, it’s a gift,” Peoples said. “What I hear is normalcy.”
Polk County, joined by runners from Chase and East Rutherford, likely concluded this most unusual of cross country regular seasons with Monday’s meet. While Peoples would love to have one more outing before the Western Highlands Conference meet in the first week of January, he knows that’s probably not going to happen.
So the veteran head coach asked his runners to go all out Monday, to post their best possible times.
The pile of Wolverines collapsed just past the finish line in each race attested to their adherence to Peoples’ directive.
“This is the worst race ever,” Wolverine Chan Barber said to teammate Braxton Edwards as they staggered away from the finish area in G.M. Tennant Stadium, and that came after Barber and Edwards finished 1-2 in the boys race.
Polk County’s Emma Brunell and Taytem Johnson placed 2-3 in the girls race on a sunny afternoon that wouldn’t have been too out of place near the end of a usual season.
This season, of course, hasn’t resembled usual in quite some time.
“Considered where we started, only practicing two days a week for a while, I think we’ve come farther than some people expected,” Peoples said. “It has been strange with the other sports practicing at the same time as we are. We don’t normally have to compete with some of these, but that’s been true for all sports.
“You can’t miss these practices sometimes if you want to make the team, so we’ve had to be more lenient with attendance. If they’re not here, I know they’re somewhere.”
The Wolverines’ best times this season have them likely finishing second in the WHC meet and in the top five at the 1A West Regional. The top three teams at the regional will advance to the state meet, thus Peoples’ assessment that Polk County is “going to have to hump it at the regional to get out.”
All of that will be fuel for worry another day. Monday, the sun shone, kids ran and the the daily struggle of live in the COVID era seemed forgotten for a time.
“Normalcy,” Peoples said. “That’s what you hear.”
POLK COUNTY RESULTS
2. Emma Brunell, 23:24.80; 3. Taytem Johnson, 24:30.00; 5. Tori Thompson, 28:09.40
1. Chan Barber, 19:00.90; 2. Braxton Edwards, 10:35.30; 4. Tristan Devine, 20:25.30; 5. Chris Rickman, 21:14.70; 8. Jayln Thomas, 22:38.50