The Bangor High School cross country teams had no certainty last June there would be a 2020 season this fall after remote-learning classes gave way to summer vacation and the spring sports season was canceled due to COVID-19.
The future of fall sports remains undetermined as the Maine Principals’ Association and several state agencies continue to work on safety guidelines to address the coronavirus pandemic.
That hasn’t stopped the Rams from hitting the roads in pursuit of regional- and state-title contention this autumn — if the cross country championships are held.
Team members ran 11,258.3 training miles between mid-June and Aug. 23 — 3 1/2 times the 3,200 miles of driving distance between Bangor and Los Angeles.
The Rams averaged about 1,100 miles per week during their optional summer training program.
“In 20 years of coaching cross country, I’ve never seen this level of commitment to summer training,” Bangor coach Roger Huber said. “I give zero credit to the training plans and I give all the credit to the kids just wanting to have some control over their lives and to be able to take charge of something in this strange period of time.”
Approximately 60 runners, 80 percent of the 70-75 team members, participated with an original collective goal of 10,000 miles.
“There was definitely motivation to meet this goal,” said Bangor senior Gordon Doore, who accounted for more than 600 of the team’s summer mileage.
“But we’ve created a culture of just enjoying the sport. We prioritize good training because that’s really important in doing well, but also having fun with it.”
Huber had no in-person coaching contact throughout the summer as Bangor High School opted not to participate in the MPA-sanctioned off-season conditioning program.
“It actually makes it even more remarkable that these kids were able to do this on their own with only a bit of minimal electronic nagging from me,” he said.
Instead, Bangor coaches developed individual running plans with varying distance goals for each runner. Participants were divided into 10 groups, each a mix of upperclassmen and younger runners, with a veteran assigned to a leadership role.
“We had a teamwide Zoom meeting on June 15 to roll it out and to explain the summer running program,” Huber said.
“We had an electronic log for them to log their runs into, so they and we could track their progress and there was some accountability for their training.”
Huber said the runners were motivated not only by their running goals but the chance to engage with teammates they hadn’t seen often since school was shut down due to the pandemic.
“They had been out of school since March, they had lost their spring sports season and we just gave them this opportunity,” Huber said in stressing its optional nature.
“These kids stepped up beyond my wildest imagination.”
The athletes were encouraged to adhere to state guidelines as they logged their mileage, generally running either alone or in two- or three-person groupings.
“The vast majority ran by themselves for their miles, but we did have some opportunities to meet up and run while social distancing,” Doore said. “We just maintained distance while still enjoying each other’s company and motivating each other.”
Huber has kept his teams updated with weekly emails on the state of high school cross country in Maine amid the pandemic.
“It’s been difficult for me to give them a consistent, upbeat message,” Huber said. “But nobody seems to take issue with cross country being a low-risk sport and that it’s got its possibilities and that’s the message I keep giving the kids.”
On Wednesday, Huber informed the team that the start of preseason practice had been delayed again, until the week of Sept. 14.
“It’s certainly a little bit stressful but I’m just trying to stay optimistic,” Doore said. “I’m certainly rooting for a cross country season.”
Both Bangor teams figure to be contenders for top regional and state honors.
The boys graduated no one from last year’s squad that finished second at the Class A state meet for the second straight year. The Rams are led by junior Dan McCarthy and Doore, both top-10 finishers at states.
“This boys team has been singularly focused on winning a state title,” Huber said. “They’ve made a huge investment in themselves, in their team, in the program, and I just hope they get their shot.”
The Bangor girls graduated reigning Class A North champion Lydia Gilmore, but senior Erin McCarthy — second at the regional and eighth at states — will pace a deep returning squad that has added senior Megan Randall, a transfer from Scarborough who placed 21st in Class A last fall.
Huber continues to provide a workout plan that mirrors what the runners would be doing under normal circumstances with some simple advice.
“Take it upon yourself to get a teammate, get out there and do what you’re supposed to do and if we do get the go-ahead you’re going to be ready,” he said.