The races still covered three miles each. A new world for high school cross country was framed both by what it was and what it used to be.

“Welcome to the 24th edition of the St. Michael Bayou Boogie Invitational,” SMHS coach Neil Borel said. “It’s different than years past, a lot smaller. But we’re racing.

“Thank goodness we can race, and please follow the rules so we can keep racing. Runners … keep your masks on until you hear the starting whistle.”

A look at Saturday’s landscape at Highland Road Park illustrated the COVID-19 changes for cross country in 2020 as well as the races did.

The St. Michael meet is a season opener teams normally flock to. No team canopies lined the hillside above the Highland course this year. There was plenty of space to social distance and run the distance on Saturday morning in varsity races that featured 100 runners or fewer. Highland races usually attract more than twice that many.

Coaches were tasked with sending results for their runners to St. Michael on Saturday afternoon so that results can be tabulated.

“It was different,” Catholic High senior Blake Cook said. “I usually start out closer to the back in the first mile. Today there were not that many people in front of me.”

The intense humidity was part of the story, along with the COVID-19 rules. Runners wore masks while warming up. They discarded masks as the races began. Each competitor could bring two spectators, but few ventured down to the finish/start area that is typically lined with parents, teammates and coaches.

Each varsity race featured three waves of runners who started in 30-second intervals. Once the final wave took off, SMHS volunteers armed with gloves and masks swooped in to pick up all the discarded masks.

Minutes later, those volunteers stood behind the finish line. They handed out temporary masks to each finisher and watched as fist bumps replaced handshakes. Any other year, volunteers would have distributed water, along with T-shirts to the top finishers. Runners are required to bring their own water in 2020.

“This is my first race since state meet last year,” St. Michael senior Rebecca Quebedeaux said. “I was afraid we might not have a season. I had no idea what to expect today. But I am glad we get to run.”

Quebedeaux was pleased with her day. She ran the three-mile course in 19 minutes, 46 seconds. Freshman Stella Vincent of St. Joseph’s Academy finished a second ahead of Quebedeaux to lead the first-wave finishers.

“I got my goal … to go under 19:50,” Vincent said. “At the end, you have to persevere and kick. I was in first and I didn’t want to lose it.”

Staggered starts complicate the scoring process. Cook and another Catholic senior, Peter Kelly, led the first wave of boys varsity runners.

Dunham’s John Walker McDonald led the second wave. All three unofficially finished in their three-mile races between 16:55 and 16:57.

“The kids handled all of it — the starts and masks — like champs,” St. Michael’s Borel said. “This is a start. As coaches, we will take what we learn today and use it next week.”


Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com