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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)
September 22, 2013 Sunday
Sports; Pg. 0
|Special K: How long before girls cross country ups the distance? | PREPS ALCOVE
JR RADCLIFFE, Kettle Moraine Index (Dousman, WI)
Paige Patenaude wants her runners to go the extra mile, but actually not even the whole mile.
The Mukwonago girls cross country coach is one of many adamant supporters of a movement to extend the Wisconsin girls cross-country race from 4, 000 meters to 5, 000, aligning with the boys. Only10 states offer a different distance depending on gender (though one state, Texas, only does so for smaller schools), and Wisconsin is among them.
"Wisconsin leads the way on many things surrounding schools and school sports, but we are archaic when it comes to cross country," Patenaude said.
"The biggest arguments (against upgrading to a 5K) are that girls would spend too long on the course and that participation will go down," she added. "Back when the girls race was only two miles, it was a great concern that if we moved to a 4K (2 1/2 miles) that participation would go down. That has been proven to be incorrect since the move to 4K as female CC participation has grown, so that theory goes out the window."
Pewaukee coach John Kashian, whose CC teams swept the Whitewater Invite on Sept.14 in a meet that runs 5K races for both genders (and whose team was scheduled to compete again in the same format at Franklin on Sept. 21), felt a move was inevitable.
"Our kids seem to flourish and they do well at it, and when they run it, they feel just as comfortable as running the 4K," he said. " (With a change), in three years, girls coming in won't know there ever was a 4K. I'm OK with staying as is; I'd be perfectly fine. It does freak out girls to some extent when they hear 5K D3 schools can only get a few kids out already, and it's possible you'd eliminate some kids that way. But I don't even know if (young runners) really even think about it being a 4K or a 5K, they just know they're running long. I don't think the transition will be as bad as a lot of people think."
Patenaude's home meet at Mukwonago also features a 5K for girls in a show of support for the movement, and 5K competitions have increased in popularity.
"We definitely train hard enough to handle an extra K," said Curt Kaczor, whose Arrowhead teams have won back-toback state championships and look like the heavy favorite for at least one more. "We train about 40 to 45 miles a week, so they definitely can handle a 5K. I'm not a pusher (of the issue), but I did vote to go to a 5K (three years ago)."
Kaczor pointed out that based on the voting three years ago, a comfortable majority of Division 1 coaches favor a switch. Patenaude, the district representative for the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association, said in a poll of 372 schools (of the 379 sponsoring girls cross country), 56.4 percent of coaches favored a switch to 5K.
"I believe it is only a matter of time before this change is made and in the meantime, my team will continue to train as if we are racing a 5K and will continue to change our schedule in order to attend meets that run 5K races," Patenaude said.
Some of the benefits are obvious. The 5K distance is closer to the 6K distance female college runners face, a unified distance would make meet administration much simpler, and the maneuver would create simple gender equity. WIAA distances in swimming and track and field are largely the same between genders. "To say that my girls run 50-60 minute runs at practice but can't handle racing for 35 minutes does not make sense," Patenaude said. "Two years ago, I moved our Mukwonago home invite to a 5K in support of moving the state to a 5K race for girls. The slowest boys time on the course for the 5K race was 28:15, the slowest girls time was 32:29. To say that four extra minutes on the course is more detrimental to our sport than having girls hear they cannot run as far as the boys infuriates me."
Patenaude said former University Lake School phenom Molly Seidel, who won four Division 3 cross country state championships, wrote an open letter to the WIAA in support of the 5K race and talked about disadvantages she faced at Notre Dame when she began her college career. Patenaude feels the concession too heavily weighs the idea that some athletes run cross country to get in shape and would be turned off by the more rigorous race.
"I am more than happy to have a girl on my team who is just there to get healthy and have a connection to the school, but I will not support my sport being watered down or my serious athletes to be at a disadvantage in order to appeal to them," she said. Kaczor, who previously coached in a Division 3 program at Sevastopol, has a unique perspective.
"Numbers (in the program) were always my concern, so I know where they're coming from (at the smaller schools)," he said. "But at the same time, those girls are running enough miles to handle a 5K and I don't think I've ever had a girl come up to me and ask me when I'm recruiting them (to go out for cross country), 'How far do you race?'" In the meantime, the longer distance races might even provide a competitive edge.
"We went to Whitewater for a 5K, and the sectional is at Whitewater as a 4K I know our girls think it's great," Kashian said. "It helps a little bit with the mental toughness of the girls. Some coaches love this. I could take it or leave it, but I'm sure there's some benefit to the fact we're training more for a 5K than a 4K."
The district representatives will vote again on a proposal to unify the distances at a January clinic hosted by the WCCCA. The result will then be formally presented to the WIAA leadership.
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September 21, 2013