JIM PETERS: Bringing some class to cross country

2013-08-21T17:00:00Z 2013-09-16T18:25:22Z JIM PETERS: Bringing some class to cross countryJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
August 21, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

Each fall, over 100 schools from Indiana, Michigan and Illinois descend upon New Carlisle for the New Prairie Cross Country Invitational.

Close to 3,000 runners compete in a range of divisions. A rainbow of tents are spread out across the sprawling campus.

"Every year we go, it's an awesome meet experience," Morgan Township boys coach Mike Grennes said.

It also gets Grennes to thinking what it would be like to have that kind of festive atmosphere at the state finals in Terre Haute. He's been there the last few years with Alec Kostelnik and just isn't getting the buzz.

"It's subdued," Grennes said. "There are only five, six, seven teams truly competing."

To that end, he believes a two-class system would breathe new life into the event.

"I think it would help the sport," Grennes said.

Grennes knows the very mention of the subject raises the ire of all the big schools and brands him a small-school whiner.

"They don't have a problem with the way it is," he said. "If I was in their position, I wouldn't want to change either."

The format's not broken, but that doesn't mean it's perfect either. Every state bordering Indiana has multiple classes in cross country.

"It’s way past time," Grennes said. "I think it's an easy solution. I always hear it's an individual sport, but then why do they keep team scores? Alec couldn't score on his own. Two guys can go to the state track meet and almost win."

Appealing to the sympathies of big-school executive board members isn't the avenue to generating support, but bolstering budgets is. Grennes believes a two-class state final with 40 schools would be a boon to attendance, which would in turn benefit Terre Haute.

"It all comes down to money," he said. "Small schools travel well. You'd have more people making the trip. The more involved, the more interest there is, all the way up and down, and that means more money."

Logistically, it's not a reach. The course can handle the larger field. Run the race and score the classes separately or just run them separately. You drive 250 miles, what's another hour or so? Semistates could be handled the same way.

The change would come at the sectional level, where small schools at two sites, say Crown Point and Rensselaer, would be combined. Ditto for the big schools. Travel would be increased, but Grennes isn't complaining.

"I'd rather go to Rensselaer than (race) Valpo," he said. "We're done at 400 meters. Boone's a good small school and they can't get out of the first level."

Grennes isn't holding his breath, but it never hurts to facilitate discussion.

"The powers that be that run cross country, who make decisions, are in Marion County, all the big schools," he said. "I don’t see it happening any time soon."

Me neither. That said, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the little guys. Qualifying has been changed to allow for the top 10 finishers not on advancing teams to move on to the next round.

It won't get any small schools to state, but it could get kids there who wouldn't have made it otherwise, and that's a step in the right direction.

"It'll help a lot of kids," South Central coach Rachel Werner said. "I really wish they'd split into two classes. That's the best answer. At least this is a good compromise."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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