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Dr. J. on Running

Cross-Country Championship Format

Changes Ahead

Published March 6, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Last November, an ad hoc committee of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) convened to look at the championship status of scholastic sports. The members of the committee recommended to the Central Committee of NYSPHSAA that each sport must select a classification as either an individual sport or a team sport. The Central Committee expects to act on this recommendation next summer.

The proposed rule has a direct impact on the cross-country State championship. In its present format, the State meet allows the top team in each section plus the top 5 individual finishers. This format allows twelve individuals in each class to compete in the State championship. The top ten finishers in each class score in the sectional team competition.

The ad hoc committee report requires the state cross-country committee to choose between a team format and an individual format. If the state committee designates cross-country as a team sport, no individual entries will be allowed. Alternatively, the committee may choose individual sport designation, and eliminate team competition.

The reaction of the coaching community was lump-sided. They expressed their loud opposition to the proposal, and attributed the plan to pressure from other sports to copy cross-country's mixed individual-team format. In particular, wrestling coaches had expressed a desire to include both formats in their State championship. Concerned with the potential escalation in costs if every sport adopted a dual format, the ad hoc committee recommended a single format per sport.

In a letter to the ad hoc committee on championship philosophy, Boys' Cross Country Chairman Chuck Wiltse and Girls' Cross Country Chairman Marbry Gansle recognized the uniqueness of cross-country as a team sport at the State level with some individual flavor at the local level. They pleaded for the status quo, arguing that the fifty-year-old format of sectional competition has earned the right to stay.

As a matter of history, the sport of cross-country has been on the national scene in the same format since 1938 for men, 1949 for scholastic boys in New York, and 1975 for girls' competition. Next fall's State championships in Utica will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of boys' championship and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the girls' championship.

Although I respect the opinions of the State cross-country chairmen and coaches, I see in the proposed changes a unique opportunity to restore a true State cross-country championship and abolish the class system of competition. Hence, I put forth my own proposal to restructure the championship.

In a fashion similar to the indoor track championship, athletes would compete in the cross-country championship in a single class, without regard to school size. Thus, at the sectional championship, runners from classes A, B, C and D compete in a single race. Similarly, section representatives compete for the State title in a single class.

In the sectional championship, each school would field a team of seven runners. The top three teams advance to the State championship. In addition, the top twenty-one individual runners who do not belong on the top three teams advance to the State championship, bringing to 42 the number of athletes from each section.

At the State championship, a reasonable scoring system would permit identifying the top sections and the top schools. The top five runners score for each section, and the top five runners from each school score for their school. Runners may score on both their sectional team and their school team. In the spirit of intersectional competition, runners wear the colors of their section.

In proposing to abolish the class system in cross-country, my format seeks to eliminate protectionism and athletic welfare from the purest of all competition. The size of a school and the wealth of a district have no bearing on the talent of a runner, and cannot replace hard work and consistent training. Whether for individuals or teams, it is hypocritical to designate a multitude of State champions, when in reality there can be only one true champion.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains TrackMeets.com, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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