Annual CHS-hosted high school track-and-field meet, originally slated for today, routinely is a highlight of the community's annual sports calendar. Ultimate fate for 2020 yet to be decided
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — Today (Thursday, April 9) was supposed to have been a big day of excitement in Chillicothe.
One of the local sports calendar’s annual “red-letter” events – the Chillicothe Joe Shy Relays track-and-field meet hosted by Chillicothe High School – were to take place at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium II this afternoon and early evening with dozens of CHS student-athletes competing for honors they’d likely have remembered the rest of their lives against hundreds of fellow high schoolers from across north and northwest Missouri. Additionally, hundrects of out-of-towners would have traveled to Chillicothe, some percentage of which likely would have patronized local fuel vendors and restaurants and maybe more.
Though weather conditions – chilling, strong north-northwest winds that belied a still-air temperature in the low-to-middle 50s – wouldn’t have been nearly as balmy as yesterday’s meet-time readings in the middle 80s with only a warm breeze, the athletes would have adjusted their attire accordingly and competed fiercely against strong competition while posting early-season “measuring sticks” by which they could have gauged their progress as the season moved on.
Instead, Litton Stadium II stands empty and quiet – were it a person, it could be described as forlorn, particularly considering there is no certainty at present that the 2020 event will ever come to pass, due to restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 persons as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Contacted by the C-T earlier this week, CHS boys’ track-and-field team head coach Bill Shaffer, the long-time chief organizer and overseer of the Relays, admitted to feeling that emptiness and forlornness himself.
“I've been having several ‘sad’ thoughts during all of this for our athletes, especially for our seniors,” he shared. “We have a talented bunch who I was excited to see compete.”
Instead, the only non-artificial “game” CHS spring sports athletes and coaches and their counterparts in high schools, colleges, and professional leagues across the country and around the globe currently are playing is the waiting game. Waiting to see if anything will be salvaged of their would-be 2020 seasons, a wait especially agonizing – as Shaffer cited – for high school seniors for whom this spring season is poised to be their last in highly-organized competition.
“If we do resume school and activities, I really don't know what to expect,” acknowledges the CHS boys’ program’s head coach for 20 of the preceding 23 season (he taught elsewhere from 2008-09 through 2010-11). “A great deal will depend on when we can start. We will have to make decisions based on what MSHSAA (the Missouri State High School Activities Association) puts out,” in the way of allowable dates for the completion of preseason practice requirements (14 separate dates, of which CHS has completed 11), allowable “window” for regular-season meets, and any postseason competition schedule.
“Obviously, we would want to have some type of preparation before we get into the state series,” Shaffer mused. “However, we don't want to put the students at risk for injuries by overworking them, especially after they have had over a month away from actual practice time.”
If government-imposed restrictions and guidelines are relaxed or rescinded in time for schools and their extracurricular activities to resume in late April or early May, even if MSHSAA takes – for it – the unprecedented step (some state school associations sanction – due to later arrival of milder weather – baseball seasons that run from early April into late June) of extending its overall spring sports season well beyond the end of the classroom instruction year, there likely still would be a shorter stretch of time – perhaps only four or five weeks – for regular-season games, matches, and meets.
In such a scenario, most Missouri school programs effectively would figure to completely scrap their original schedules and try to construct new ones, presumably focusing on trying to conduct a full slate of conference competitions.
For the CHS track-and-field program, the only conference-related event is the Midland Empire Conference Championships, which Chillicothe is due to host this year. However, with lots of teams looking to get in as many meets as they can before district, sectional, and state competition would roll around, the combination of CHS’ facility – with its all-weather, 8-lanes track and almost-any-weather field-events sites – and the sterling reputation of the school and community have for efficiently and effectively staging meets, logic would suggest Chillicothe would find plenty of takers for any additional meets it might opt to host.
In such a scenario, the Chillicothe Joe Shy Relays not only could yet be held, but might draw even wider participation than its normal 12-15 schools.
“If we are able to host a meet like the Joe Shy, we would try to get as many schools as possible,” Shaffer affirmed, while noting there is much more involved in hosting it beyond just having participation interest from teams.
“A lot would have to be figured out. We would need to find officials and volunteers. (Lady Hornets head coach Karen Jackson) and I would discuss the possibility of more than (the traditional) 2-per-event team entries limit. I would not be in favor of splitting the meet up into multiple days” to accommodate a significantly-larger number of teams or entries.
“Of all the meets on the schedule, the one I'm sure would have to take place is the MEC meet. I haven't had any contact with other conference coaches, but I'm sure we would have to make changes to the (usual) format.”
While Shaffer’s undesired many idle moments allow for mulling over options and scenarios, ultimately the jarring reality that no one knows or can even logically predict whether such bridges ever will be an option to cross.
“Right now, we're in ‘wait-and-see mode, which I don't like,” he concedes, “but it's what everybody else is having to deal with, as well.”