By Ray Hamill — Poor planning by the North Coast Section has left many local cross country runners wondering what might have been, after a sudden end to their high school careers.
On Tuesday, the section was forced to cancel five of the 10 scheduled championship races at the last minute, due to poor air quality in Hayward, and instead used a three-person advancement committee to decide which runners move on to the state races on Saturday.
What a complete and utter shambles.
Just when we start thinking things can’t get any worse, they somehow do.
Once again, the NCS has no one to blame but its own decision makers, and once again this whole mess could and should have been avoided.
Over a week ago, with the poor air quality caused by the ongoing wildfires still lingering in the Bay Area, Fortuna cross country co-head coach Josh Quintal contacted the NCS about potentially moving the races to Humboldt County as a back-up plan.
He never heard back from them.
“We emailed them saying if we had enough notice, we could put something together up here,” said Quintal, who reached out on a couple of occasions. “And we didn’t get a reply.”
The end result was hundreds of runners never got the opportunity to race in what for many would have been the pinnacle of their careers, and for others the opportunity to move on to the state meet.
In some cases, they were literally left stranded at the starting line, including the Humboldt-Del Norte League contingent from Arcata, Eureka, Fortuna and Del Norte, who were lined up and ready to go when the decision came down.
The NCS had been monitoring the air quality in the area all morning, and as soon as it dipped below acceptable levels the races were immediately canceled.
“It was craziness,” Quintal said.
And, just like we’ve seen with the football scheduling problems, it was largely down to poor planning and a lack of decisive action from the NCS, with everyone aware the quality of the air was unlikely to improve enough until the expected rainfall later this week.
There were some viable options available here on the North Coast, where the air quality remains well within the levels required, but the NCS appears to have again ignored those options.
“We were trying to scramble to put something together, and we never heard anything back,” Quintal said.
For Fortuna senior Agustin Garcinuno and numerous other contenders within the five divisions who never got to race, it’s a cruel way to have your high school career ended for you.
Garcinuo was one of the top runners here on the North Coast and expected to be in contention for his first ever trip to the state race, but was overlooked by the advancement committee, and saw his opportunity slip away on somebody’s judgement, instead of on the field of competition.
Earlier this season, Quintal described Garcinuno as one of his team leaders, who had taken on himself the responsibility to organize off-season workouts for the Huskies.
All of that hard work won’t now pay off for him this year.
The Arcata girls too were expected to at least challenge for one of the team spots moving on to the state races, but were also overlooked by the committee, and never got the opportunity to compete for it.
Once again, it’s important to remember that this is not a matter of life and death, the way the wildfires have been, but again it should not be used as an excuse to hide behind when you take away something these young athletes have worked so long and so hard for.
Not when there were alternatives. Not when the NCS should have acted sooner to avoid this mess — again.