By Adam Pepper-Macias (L17)
For the first time in nearly a year, Ventura County high school students lined up Wednesday to compete in a CIF-sanctioned sporting competition: a cross country race, and a memory of a time before COVID.
The competitors included runners from three Ventura County schools in the Omega League: Ojai Valley School, Newbury Park Adventist Academy, and Hillcrest Christian School. The field was small — only 17 runners total. But for the athletes, coaches and supporters in attendance, the competition was monumental as it offered a glimpse of life post-pandemic.
“It’s just making it normal in some little, little way,” OVS cross country coach Fred Alvarez told his socially distanced runners in a pre-race huddle. “We are just lucky to be running.”
The meet was only possible because it followed all California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) and state and county health guidelines with full COVID protocols in place. Cross country is one of six designated sports that are permitted to compete during the “widespread” or “purple” tier of county COVID precaution. All of the schools represented in the meet have student bodies split between in-person and distance learning programs and thus the teams were small; in total 14 boys and just 3 girls competed.
But other than that, the meet was a semblance of normal in decidedly not normal times.
“It’s exciting,” said runner Alexander Manning, a junior at OVS. “It’s good to have people around you getting back into the sport.”
Newbury Park Adventist freshman Ryan Rosaasen won the boys race in 18 minutes and 52 seconds, an excellent time on OVS’s tough three-mile course. Hillcrest Christian senior Cameron Spach took second place in 19:38.
The OVS boys won the meet, taking the third, fourth, fifth, seventh and ninth spots. Freshman Ben Manning (L20) led the way for the Spuds, finishing in 19:49. He was followed by his brother, Alexander Manning, seniors Gabe Weisiger (L17) and Mark Pindur, and sophomore Emanuel Zagata-Jacobsen.
On the girls side, OVS sophomore India Getty-Pruss (L19) took second place, posting a personal best time on the 3.14-mile Pi course.
But as with many of the other athletes, time and place took a backseat Wednesday to the simple notion of putting on a uniform and toeing the line in competition.
“I think the meet gave us all a glimpse of our old normality and that made it extra exciting for everyone,” India said. “I am very grateful to be one of the three girls who competed. Overall the meet was a great experience and I’m looking forward to more in the near future.”
Wednesday’s meet was one of four Omega League cross country races scheduled to take place at OVS in the next month, with the last of those — the league final — scheduled to take place on March 3. While only a handful of the 12 Omega League teams took part in Wednesday’s meet, OVS’s coach Alvarez is hoping that more teams will join as this race serves as a positive example of COVID-safe athletic competition.
“It helped to get this first one under our belts,” he said. “We showed that we could keep good protocols in place and provide a safe outlet for our student-athletes to get back to business.”