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THE FRONT ROW WITH JASON ELLIOTT: Back on the trail after long layoff

| August 15, 2020 1:15 AM

This fall will likely be like one that hasn’t been seen in a long time in respect to high school sports.

Frankly, the idea that we’re talking about some teams returning to competition within the next few weeks is nothing short of amazing.

That being said, it’s going to be a different atmosphere, no matter what your choice of event might be.

DURING ITS first week of training this week, Timberlake High’s cross country team has 40 runners out — 11 girls and 29 boys so far.

No athletes opted not to turn out because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s almost had the opposite affect on us,” said Timberlake coach Shawn Lawler, who coached the girls to state 3A titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011. “It’s an unbelievable number for the boys to have running cross country, and it’s super impressive to have. It’s almost like the whole COVID thing has brought them out.”

Even the early morning workouts haven’t detoured the athletes.

“We run at 7 a.m., and we’re asking them to train on their own,” Lawler said. “It’s been great with the volume of kids we’ve had running. And cross country running, it’s tough with some rough conditions, but they’re out there.”

As of Thursday, Timberlake is scheduled to compete in the Libby Invitational (Aug. 29), Post Falls River Run (Sept. 3) and the Farragut Invitational on Sept. 12.

OF COURSE, that could all change.

“I’ve been updating Athletic.net almost daily,” Lawler said of the go-to website for high school cross country and track and field. “We had three or four schools from the Boise area for our meet (at Farragut State Park) scheduled to come, but none of them are now. We won’t have any Washington schools either, so we’re going to lose half the schools. COVID had really changed what our meet is going to look like. We’re looking at all the safety protocols and double-flagging the meet so some runners don’t start and finish in the same place. We’re looking at doing the awards separately and looking at all things in a safe manner.”

With the cancellation of the Bob Firman Invitational (Sept. 26, at Eagle Island State Park) and the Battle for the 509 in Cheney (Sept. 19, because Washington postponed fall sports to the spring), the Tigers would not be scheduled to compete again until the Inland Empire Challenge in Lewiston on Oct. 3.

The state meet in all classifications is scheduled for Oct. 31 at Eagle Island State Park. Should that be altered, Lawler added there is a plan in place.

“I’m on a committee for the state in cross country,” Lawler said. “We’re going to look at alternate sites and have different classifications at different sites. We don’t know if it’s going to be in neighboring counties, but we’re looking into everything just in case they’re still in the red and can’t host that many schools at once.”

Even making the state meet a two-day event isn’t out of the question.

“They’ve talked about having the 3A in Boise, the 4A in Mountain Home and 5A in Canyon County and have their own sites,” Lawler said. “If it was still at Eagle Island, they could have the 3A, 2A and 1A on one day, and the 4A and 5A the next. There’s all kind of things being discussed.”

For now, Timberlake is still scheduled to compete in a “scrimmage” meet against Sandpoint next Friday in Sandpoint.

“I’ve been talking with (Sandpoint coach) Matt Brass and we’ve talked about how that’s going to go since it’s just a practice meet,” Lawler said. “We just want the kids to have a championship season somehow. Some of us will probably have a few dual meets and smaller events throughout the season.”

And unlike last spring, when prep sports were canceled shortly after getting started, get a chance to end the season as they should.

“We want to start this season and not have to stop,” Lawler said. “We just hope we can get through this and be well.”

Jason Elliott is a sports writer for the Coeur d’Alene Press. He can be reached by telephone at (208) 664-8176, Ext. 2020 or via email at jelliott@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter @JECdAPress.