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Sunday, September 22, 2013
Radford High School’s boys cross country team won the Group A state championship last fall, and the girls team finished sixth in the state.
We don’t know if the Bobcats will repeat that success this fall. We do know that the young runners are getting a championship-quality civics lesson to go with their training.
The teams learned last month that they would not be allowed to train on city streets this season, a prohibition that surely strikes the sedentary as a common-sense safety measure. To many Radford High runners and their parents, the ban makes little sense at all.
The teams had logged miles on city streets for years without incident or complaint. The hilly terrain helped runners build speed and strength and prepare for meets held on rolling courses. Banned from running on the roads, they have to hold workouts on mostly flat city trails and take buses to locations suitable for hill training. Some Radford runners worry that they won’t get the training they need to compete for another state title.
A “Save Radford Cross Country” website and Facebook group were launched as part of a campaign to have the directive rescinded. Runner’s World magazine published an online story about the road-running ban, characterizing it as “relatively rare.” Earlier this month, runners and parents marched to a Radford School Board meeting to protest.
Runners said they need to train on hills to be competitive. Parents said they should have been consulted before receiving an Aug. 14 letter from the high school’s athletic director and cross country coach Mike Carrow informing them of the decision to keep runners off the streets.
The road-running ban was not an abrupt decision, said Rob Graham, Radford’s assistant superintendent for instruction. School officials were approached last year about designing a cross country course on city-owned land, partly to keep runners from having to use the streets. The project proved to be too costly, Graham said.
But school officials said the safety concerns remain, especially with distracted driving incidents on the rise.
Long-awaited improvements on Second Avenue will include the addition of a parallel path for cyclists and pedestrians that will connect to existing trail segments in the area, but that won’t help the Radford runners this fall.
The ban has remained in place, but the objections voiced by runners and parents have had some effect. On Thursday, a committee made up of runners, parents, school administrators and coaches met to discuss the situation, without reaching a solution.
Many runners are drawn to the sport by its lack of boundaries and the idea of being limited only by the capacity of hearts and lungs. With obesity rates reaching alarming levels, teens should be encouraged to embrace the sport.
As Cameron Schafer, a member of the girls team, told Runner’s World: “My favorite part of cross country was long runs, because I liked to go as far as I could out in Radford . . . and see different places. Now it’s probably my least favorite part because it’s the same spot. It takes the enjoyment out.”
Radford would not have championship-caliber cross country teams without a conscientious coach and athletes who are careful while training on the roads. School officials recognize this, just as they recognize that a teenage runner is no match for a vehicle operated by a reckless or inattentive driver.
We can’t criticize school officials for wanting to err on the side of safety. Nor can we criticize the dedicated athletes and their families for taking their objections to the school board. We hope a compromise can be reached and the Bobcats can get the most out of their training this fall.
“I’ve been extremely proud of the team and the way they’ve handled this,” Graham said. “They have some really quality leadership.”
Indeed. Championship quality.
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