The premise is quite simple in my mind.
Don’t the top runners want to run against the best competition? And wouldn’t their coaches want to train them, as well as their team if it’s good enough, for that challenge?
Specifically, wouldn’t the premier runners and their cross country coaches in Massachusetts want to compete in the New England meet, which was held this year last Saturday in Manchester, Conn.?
The answer from most coaches, apparently, is “not really.” In the past, I’ve asked standout runners the question and they’re generally all for competing at New England, but it’s a different story with their coaches.
Influential Lowell coach Scott Ouellet speaks for a lot of coaches and he’s pretty adamant about it.
“I am against it and, from best I can tell, so are most of my peers in Massachusetts,” said Ouellet, the highly regarded former Methuen assistant. “In my experience, at any meeting when the subject has been brought up, there has been very little enthusiasm to run in that meet. Very little.
“We have our league meets and then the last chance for the frosh and JV at the (State) Coaches meet followed by the class meets. Reducing the season or cramming in those meets so we can run New England does not appeal to me.
“Teams or kids who are truly elite have more options than ever before with the Nike regional meet and the expanded Foot Locker meet. In track, many top athletes skip New England and it’s watered down. Cross country would have even more scratches and would not be worth changing our great schedule for.”
Agrees veteran Haverhill coach Mike Maguire (among others): “I like the schedule the way it is. I prefer the EMass and state meets right where they are. I would not advocate a change in our schedule to accommodate Massachusetts participation in New England.
“(Also), if Mass. did decide to be represented, how would it be determined which schools would qualify?... We don’t have an All-State meet but a D1 and D2 state meet.”
Echoing Ouellet, Maguire also points to track, saying that many Massachusetts schools opt not to compete in New England meets and rest their athletes for national meets, saying that “I look at qualifying for those as an honor.”
Methuen coach Kevin Alliette says that he “would love to see how we stack up against New England, but not if it is detrimental to our schedule.”
About the only local coach in favor of a move to New England that I could locate is North Andover’s Rick DelleChiaie, who says, “We do it in indoor and outdoor track so why not cross country? I enjoy the competition so I would be thrilled to see some of our runners who qualified compete.
“I think it would be good for the sport. The State Coaches meet the week before the divisional meet has lost its significance in recent years, so I wouldn’t mind seeing it go and the divisional meets shifted to that date.”
There are some coaches, like Ouellet and Maguire, who seem to like the State Coaches meet, however, and eliminating it would still require a change to the schedule for Mass. to run in New England.
Larry Newman, who is a long time cross country official and announcer, as well as the editor and publisher of New England Track, has come up with a workable formula, however, that should keep both sides happy.
In a nutshell, it would:
1. Start the season, or at least start holding some of the bigger meets, a bit earlier.
2. Move the Frank Mooney (State Coaches) meet to the same day as the New England meet, after the state meets. Very few of the same runners compete in both anyway and that might actually increase participation in the Mooney meet for younger and less experienced runners.
3. Qualify the top 25 individuals and top six teams on time if Mass. sticks to two “state meets” rather than a true all-state meet.
As far as for the rest of the top runners, there would still be a two-week break at the end of the season before the Nike and Foot Locker meets. And the season, overall, would be over for at least 95% of the state.
To me, it makes perfect sense, and I have to agree with Newman on a couple of other points.
“How do you have a New England cross country championship without, I would argue, the preeminent distance state in New England?” asks Newman. “And what top runner in Massachusetts wouldn’t want to be a New England champion?
“I know this issue has been brought up before and fallen on deaf ears (but) it’s time we join our brother and sister states in conducting a true New England high school cross country championship. The solution is way too simple. It must begin with the MIAA in cooperation with the outstanding invitationals throughout the commonwealth.”
Again, it makes perfect sense. I know some coaches don’t like change but, in this case, change would be good.