Nome-Beltz Jr/Sr High School won’t begin classes until later this month; August 25th or 26th, but students are already back on campus for other activities and sports – like cross country.

KNOM reports on the team’s first day of practice:

“My name is Jeff Collins, I am the head cross country coach for Nome Beltz High School and Junior High cross country. We are in the back of Nome-Beltz.”

Nome’s Coach Jeff Collins held his first practice of the 2020 season on July 29th, outdoors on the running trails in their usual spot. What is unusual this year of course, is having a sports season amidst the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

“First of all, everything that applied to all past seasons is out the window…I have had to separate our group, where once we would have three groups traditionally that we would separate everyone into, this year I am looking more at five to keep numbers, pack groups down.”

Coach Collins says this will likely be a building year with mostly freshmen, and only three seniors, competing for Nome. This is also the first year sixth graders will be included on the team.

Collins has coached the Nome-Beltz cross country team for 11 seasons, and this is the only one where he’s had to take daily temperature readings on each athlete before beginning practice. He is also required by the state to ask a set of daily questions to every runner on the team.

“Anything from ‘have you had a fever in the past 72 hours, to a sore throat, a cough, or been in contact with anyone who has COVID-19?’ So those are all things that are in place right now and those are things that I monitor for this season.”

Collins points out that cross country runners exhibit those types of symptoms on a regular basis as they are training. He says elevated temperatures and difficulty breathing are all part of running.

Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) is the state body that oversees and regulates high school sports across the Last Frontier. At this point in time Collins says he hasn’t gotten much guidance on how to conduct this year’s season from the Nome Public Schools District or ASAA.

“The only indication we’ve received from the state, from ASAA which is the state governing board for athletics, is that they are not cancelling any meets. They are leaving that for a district or a school site to come up with that answer. In many of my conversations, everything has been pushed back for this month, that August will probably be a no travel month.”

According to ASAA’s website, the 2020 cross country state championship will be held in October at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. However, the association cautions that timing and location could be subject to change based on COVID-19.

Nome-Beltz Cross Country Team stretches together while maintaining social distancing during the 2020 fall season, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo from Rosa Wright, used with permission (2020).

Given the travel requirements currently mandated by the City of Nome and Norton Sound’s regional communities, Coach Collins anticipates the NBHS cross country team won’t be able to travel for meets at all this season.

“As of right now there is zero travel for any sports, so we get to run against each other a lot.”

To give the Nome Nanooks some competition other than themselves out on the trails, local runners are encouraged to participate in events like this past weekend’s Musk Ox Ramble 5k.

Collins says the cross-country team will be tracking their times online and using virtual tools like Strava, to hold other local races this season.

Image at top: NBHS Cross Country Coach Jeff Collins and his young team chat before a practice. Photo from Rosa Wright, used with permission (2020).