Even though St. Thomas Aquinas coach Justin Wrigley entered the first cross country practice of the season on Monday with a pair of defending state champion teams, the most exciting development of the summer for him occurred far away from the race course or weight room.
Instead, a landmark decision in Kansas to equalize the girls and boys cross country race distances to 5 kilometers for all postseason races is the hot topic. For regular season meets, host schools can choose the new 5K distance or the traditional 4K distance.
For St. Thomas Aquinas, this change will start with their season-opening meet — the Greg Wilson Classic — on Sept. 5.
“It’s good for the sport and good for the girls,” said Wrigley, who wrote the bill that was presented to athletic directors for a vote to change the distance.
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Wrigley’s major arguments pointed at track, where all distances between boys and girls are the same at the high school level. The only major difference is the height of the hurdles.
“Things like this, that help create a standard distance across the country, make sense,” Wrigley said. “There are a lot of arguments for and a lot of arguments against, but I wanted normalcy and equality.”
The other Kansas State High School Activities Association rule change now requires a minimum of nine days of practice before a cross country runner can participate in a meet. The change was made with concerns about heat acclimation and hydration awareness.
Maranatha Christian is in a similar situation, with the return of two Class 2A state champion teams. It was the second straight title for the girls, who also won a track and field team title last spring.
Olathe East won the Class 6A girls cross country state title last year and Blue Valley won Class 6A boys title.
The 913 area produced an additional eight state champions in fall sports last year. In football, Shawnee Mission East and Bishop Miege won state titles. Three volleyball state champions were crowned last fall: Bishop Miege, St. Thomas Aquinas and Olathe East. Boys soccer state champs were St. Thomas Aquinas and Olathe East. In girls tennis, meanwhile, SM East won a championship.