* A runner in Indiana with his mask on before the Valley Kick-Off Invitational
Photo Credit: Jacob Musselman/Indiana MileSplit
The day before his first race of the cross country season, Kole Mathison wanted to test a theory.
The Carmel (IN) High School sophomore set off on an easy six mile run with his face covering around his neck, wondering whether it would bother him on the shakeout as the heat belted him from afar.
No big deal.
So on Saturday, Mathison, who finished 11th at state in 2019 and was the sixth-fastest returner in Indiana, decided it would be his standard operating procedure moving forward.
Arrive at the course? Mask up. Time for a warm-up? Mask down. Waiting for the varsity race? Mask up. Time to compete? Mask down.
Mathison was pretty confident he'd have a solid performance, considering he entered the Valley Kick-Off Invitational at the LaVern Gibson course at Terre Haute , Indiana, with the top time -- that spring he even ran 14:55 on the track, which was the top freshman class time at the distance -- and a pretty impressive spring season full of quarantine races.
But he ultimately wanted his decision to say something larger to those around him: If you want to race this fall consistently, this is what you're going to have to do.
"I wanted to set a good example for people in the state, so they can follow suit and we can ultimately have a season," Mathison said.
While the jury is still out on the continuation of the season into November, his statement and others were a good first step. The Indiana High School Athletic Association has approved the advancement of fall sports, though it's giving its member schools the right to "determine what is in the best interests of the health and well-being of their student-athletes and staff."
States such as California, Virginia and Nevada have already pushed their seasons back into the winter and spring months, complicating scheduling for various sports.
For the most part, Mathison said the invitational was a good example of how meets can be run across the fall. Indiana also wasn't the only state running this week, either.
Three meets took place in Utah, too, with athletes earning their first performances of the season. The Utah High School Athletic Association confirmed a decision to allow sports to resume in July.
At the Valley Kick-Off Invitational, a total of 456 runners competed in the boys' and girls' varsity races and 207 more went in the jayvee contest. Mathison said roughly 28 teams were on the line on Saturday. There was also an open race that held 30 runners.
A sampling of fans were supporting athletes at varying parts of the course, too, he said, but that seemed scaled back from previous crowds.
Luckily, LaVern Gibson, an NCAA Championship course, had some some advantages. The starting boxes provided the meet directors a chance to place teams at every other box, giving teams ample social distance.
"That was a little different," Mathison said. "They also didn't allow run-outs."
For runners on the line, it was masks on until the race was taking place. Once athletes were through the finish chute, it was masks back on.
"I think most meet organizers throughout the state have probably coordinated and set some parameters and rules," Mathison said. "Mainly, masks on unless you're running and getting your heart rate up."
The meet itself presented Mathison and his Carmel boys' team, which earned its first win by scoring 49 points, a chance to get out and compete.
But he's still uncertain whether it will continue.
"With the season being shortened up, we don't know how many races we'll get in," Mathison said. "We normally do county first, but we did this to make sure we get one in."
"For Indiana, as of now," he continued, "the plan is to have the (state) tournament and do those races. Obivously, though, it's subject to change.
"I think if it continues to go like this, it could work. People were satisfied with how the meet went forward."
Overall, Mathison remains positive that his fall can resume -- after all, he has hopes of competing for an individual state title and helping Carmel to its latest state team win.
"I try to be optimistic," he said. "I really do think it will happen if they really go by the guidelines in place. The guidelines were followed. Everyone had masks on and we were socially distance. And so, me personally, I think it will happen."