In the starting blocks

Athletes+participate+in+warmup+drills+on+the+turf+during+in-person+preseason+workouts.

Ella Sottile

Athletes participate in warmup drills on the turf during in-person preseason workouts.

It was Friday the 13th. 

What started just like any normal day would soon signal the beginning of an entirely abnormal time. 

Distance runners were off on the streets of Kirkwood. Throwers were behind the natatorium, using the outfield of the baseball diamond to practice. The sprinters were gathered in a mob on the side of the track, preparing to run a set of 250m sprints. Long jumpers had finally gotten a turn at the pit, grabbing pieces of chalk and hustling to finish run-throughs and marks. The well-oiled machine that was the 2020 KHS Track and Field team was running just as smoothly as it ever had.

It all stopped when Coach McWoods called practice to an end. She told the team she would see everyone over spring break. That team never came back to the track.

What followed instead was months of Zoom workouts, first while the team waited for the return to school, then during the summer to keep some kind of normalcy. There were discussions of meets in late July, but they did not happen due to safety concerns.

Roberta McWoods, KHS Track and Field head coach, has spent the off-season discussing possible protocols with other track coaches around the country and the St. Louis area. At a recent Zoom meeting, coaches from the St. Louis area compiled a document of proposed regulations and procedures.

“We went through and fine-tuned [the document] and word-smithed it and then we [showed] it to our Athletic Directors (ADs),” McWoods said. “Many of our ADs are not track savvy. They may know basketball, they may know football, some of them know track but they had a ton of questions.”

What’s weird is just being out there because I haven’t dealt with that in a while, being surrounded by all these people.”

— Krista Steele

The protocols discussed at these meetings have not yet been approved by St. Louis County. Some of the proposed guidelines include limited teams allowed at meets, masks required when athletes are not running and wiping down equipment between usages.

“It’s going to be a big job, but we’re going to do whatever we’re told to do to keep our student athletes safe,” McWoods said. “We’re going to give it our best shot and we’re just glad to have a season. We will do everything we can.”

Krista Steele, senior, has been participating in KHS track camps since kindergarten. She is now a captain and participating in her last year of track at KHS. Steele was disappointed with the cancellation of the 2020 season, especially after jumping a personal record during the first week of practice.

“[Being a captain] is kind of strange, but at the same time, I feel like, throughout my three years of previous track, I’ve always been encouraging to everyone,” Steele said. “It’s not much different. I just have more of a voice now.”

Steele mentioned the importance of working out during the offseason, something many track athletes do. David Gill, junior, worked on his skills with the javelin with other throwers in preparation for this season.

“I’m looking forward to being able to throw again and get coaching and competing,” Gill said. “Even though we’re probably not going to be able to compete much this year, competing is going to be a highlight for me.”

According to Steele, it is strange to be back on the track. KHS track athletes had two weeks of practice before the 2020 season ended in-person.

“What’s weird is just being out there because I haven’t dealt with that in a while, being surrounded by all these people,” Steele said. “It’s strange because of what the reality of our world is right now.”

Despite the restrictions, McWoods is confident that a track season is possible. Practices begin March 1, so the final decisions on safety protocols must be made before practices can officially begin.

“The coaches are very energetic and very enthused and want to have a normal season,” McWoods said. “But we know that it won’t be normal. Things won’t be normal for a long time.”