In this November 2019 photo, Will Shaughnessy of Brunswick (735) and Lisandro Berry-Gaviria of Mt. Ararat spearhead the charge during the Class A boys race at the cross country state championship meet in Cumberland. MPA officials are working out the details of how athletes will qualify and how many will be allowed to compete this year. Credit: Glendon Rand

High school cross-country officials are inching closer to a format for this year’s postseason competition within Maine’s coronavirus-related mass-gathering limits.

That standard allows for a maximum of 100 people at any outdoor gathering. For a cross-country meet, that total would include not only participating runners but coaches, athletic trainers, race officials, timers and other meet workers.

That means this year’s planned postseason events will be much smaller than in past years. Five of the six 2019 state championship races in Classes A, B and C had at least 103 starters each.

Under a plan that’s still being crafted, traditional regional qualifying races likely would be replaced by smaller, conference-level meets that would advance teams and individuals to states.

“We’re trying to figure out at this point in time who is participating and who is planning to attend [states] if they qualify and who isn’t,” Maine Principals’ Association assistant executive director Mike Bisson said. “We’ve got some logistics and chasing down to do right now.”

One major question to be determined is how many teams and runners from each qualifying meet would qualify for the state championships.

Traditionally, the top 50 percent of the teams and the top 30 individual finishers in each regional race have advanced to the state meet.

With each of this year’s state championship races influenced by COVID-19 concerns, those fields will be considerably smaller. Bisson estimated that perhaps only the top nine qualifying teams and 8-10 additional individual qualifiers who didn’t also qualify with a team would comprise each state-championship race field.

A varsity cross-country team typically fields its top seven runners for a regional or state championship.

The MPA is likely to use the upcoming Maine Festival of Champions as a model for this year’s state meet.

That event, scheduled for Oct. 3 at the Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, will feature a boys and a girls race. As the boys are racing the girls will be located off site at Belfast Area High School preparing for their race. Once the boys race and awards ceremony have concluded, the girls will be bused to the race site for their competition while the boys will be bused to the high school to keep the race venue within the 100-person maximum.

“We’d do it that way one class at a time, and we’d probably have to do it over two days,” Bisson said of the possible state-meet arrangement.

The MPA Cross Country Committee surveyed schools after its Sept. 17 meeting. There was considerable support for using league championships as qualifiers for the state meet and continued backing for keeping individual and team competitions in the same race for each class and gender.

Bisson last Friday began reaching out to cross-country officials from the state’s high school conferences about staging state-qualifying meets.

“Hopefully we can get our cross-country committee together again next week and make some final decisions,” he said.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...