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Indoor track heads outdoors: Corning, Bath Haverling get creative for meet

Andrew Legare
Elmira Star-Gazette

Runners from Corning-Painted Post High School and Bath Haverling flipped their sport inside out last week.

The parking lot at Haverling was cleared of snow and ice, extra layers of clothing were worn and resistance to early February weather was tested as indoor track & field became winter track & field for a make-do meet between the schools.

Administrators and coaches are having to get creative to hold competitions. Indoor track & field is traditionally held at larger college facilities, but those are not available because of restrictions related to COVID-19. Outdoor tracks are a winter option, but more than two days of snow made sure Haverling's track was unavailable.

Corning runners compete in a track & field meet against Bath Haverling on Feb. 4, 2021 at Haverling High School.

"I was just really happy to see the meet going on," said Haverling coach Todd Ludden. "To see the kids warming up, to see kids prepping, to see the start of the race and just see the kids racing rather than just going through the motions of practice. To me this was a priceless moment that I like as a coach."

Concessions were made. Two buses made the trip from Corning, but the Hawks could bring only 40 of their roughly 100 team members. Other planned meets will provide opportunities for those who didn't get their turn.

"It was actually a lot of fun," said Corning senior Chloe Freeland, third-place finisher in the 1,500 behind teammates Faithe Ketchum and Lydia Keys. "The people at the Bath Haverling school put a lot of work into organizing that, so I really appreciate it.

"It was good to just get outside and run. At least for the longer distance races, the course was on a sidewalk around the perimeter of part of the school. For the sprinting races it was just in the parking lot. So we got to have I guess a little bit of scenery as we went around. So it was nice."

There were no field events or hurdles. Along with a couple makeshift relays, boys and girls competed in the 100-meter dash, the 300, 600, 800 and 1500/1600. The 300 was made into a straight shot so runners wouldn't have to make a turn.

Boys warm up before a track & field meet between Corning and Bath Haverling on Feb. 4, 2021 at Haverling High School.

Passing was tricky at times, turns could be ragged and Rams freshman Maddux Clark said the start of his 600 race arrived earlier than he expected and he wasn't properly warmed up, a mistake he puts on himself.

Weather was cooperative, with sunny skies and the temperature just below 40 degrees on this Feb. 4 afternoon. Still a bit chilly for those standing around. With a winter sunset, efficiency was needed. The meet started at 4 and was over at 5:28.

"It kind of reminded me of cross country season weather-wise," Clark said. "The race itself was exciting at the end. Glad we got to run."

Bottom line is competition returned for the first time in close to a year for some of the athletes. It mattered little that it was in a parking lot, masks were worn and there were no cheering spectators.

There were some impressive performances, too. Ketchum, Corning's junior distance standout, won the girls 800 (2:38.1) and 1,500 (5:08). Ashton Bange of Corning turned in an impressive 1,600 time of 4:43 that Lawson said would have translated to the high 4:30s on a track. The Hawks' Atalyia Rijo, a University of Virginia softball commit who is rated as one of the top junior players in the nation, won the 100 dash in 14.9.

Runners compete in a track & field meet between Corning and Bath Haverling on Feb. 4, 2021 at Haverling High School.

"Kids ran fast. When I look through that, they took advantage of it and our sprinters ran fast when they were there," Corning coach Ray Lawson said. "It was fun to have a meet to actually have some competition. I think once the kids were racing, despite the fact they were on the distance races a couple of tight turns in there, they slowed down and they got back right on it afterwards. I think they enjoyed the opportunity to do something besides practice."

Both schools had their 2020 outdoor track & field seasons canceled. Haverling had a cross country season in the fall, with Ludden the coach. Corning's cross country season was moved to a March 1 start after Section 4 delayed all fall sports. Some Corning runners participated in a club season for cross country.

More:Corning girls top field at Northeast High School Cross Country Club Championships

Corning senior Kyle Zaidel is among those appreciative of the chance to compete this winter. He is planning to run in college and the season will help give him a barometer for the best fit for him at the college level. He will compete in outdoor track & field this spring and might join cross country to continue his conditioning.

"Without this (season) I feel like I would have been a little bit lost and I might have chosen a choice I wouldn't have been happy with later on," Zaidel said.

"It was kind of unfortunate having to use the road, but it was nice because it had been a month or so since the start of the season and been maybe a year since I'd ran anything fast against any competitors."

A Corning parent sent an appreciative email that was relayed to Ludden. That parent made the point it was the happiest they had seen their child since the pandemic shut down opportunities for many athletes in March of 2020.

"The fact a parent from the opposing school wrote my athletic director and he forwarded that message tells me it was a pretty good success," Ludden said.

Corning runners compete in a track & field meet against Bath Haverling on Feb. 4, 2021 at Haverling High School.

Perhaps more than ever in high school sports, pulling off competitions takes teamwork. Ludden gave part of the credit to the superintendents at both schools, and those Haverling will compete with this season.

Ludden went out that morning and was concerned the meet would have to be canceled, but he credits the excellent efforts of facilities director Anthony Colomaio and his staff for making sure snow and ice were cleared.

The Rams are scheduled to use their school's indoor track against Hornell on Feb. 11. Other meets are planned for the track, which measures 140 to 145 meters long instead of the standard 200 but offers wide enough turns for competition. Ludden said it's possible the parking lot could host another meet if needed, weather permitting.

Lawson isn't sure when snow will be gone from Corning Memorial Stadium and it's possible his team's planned home meet will end up in the parking lot.

"It's just keeping up motivation, it's keeping up spirit and I think it's more that rather than actual racing," Freeland said of these winter meets.

Follow Andrew Legare on Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare. You can also reach him at alegare@gannett.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.