Coaches, athletes adjust to NHIAA rule
Confusion and resentment are permeating Greater Nashua’s high school cross country scene because of a new rule that has been implemented this fall.
Prior to the start of the 2016 season, the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association’s cross country committee voted to ban the use of watches during any state-association-sanctioned event. According to committee member and Hollis Brookline coach Don Boggis it was a unanimous vote in favor of the ban.
Three weeks into the season, coaches and athletes are voicing frustration over the ban and admitting that they’re unsure of when the policy is actually going to be enforced.
The final note under "Points of Special Emphasis" in the 2016 "Policy and Procedures for Boys and Girls Cross Country" manual, the NHIAA stresses that "athletes found to be wearing a watch during competition will be disqualified." Also in the manual, listed as item H under "VI Disqualification," it again specifies that a competitor who "wears a watch" will be disqualified.
While Boggis does not allow watches at any meet hosted by the Cavaliers, he says the new rule will be strictly enforced at divisional meets and the Meet of Champions.
Nashua High School South girls co-coach Catrina Lougee is one of the more vocal coaches regarding the ban. Now in her second year at South, Lougee and co-coach Sarah Paling have been stressing the use of technology in a runner’s life for physical and dietary training purposes.
"I ran in college, and I push a lot of these kids to try to run in college," Lougee said. "Watches are such a valuable tool. Being able to use them, and know how to use them properly, is something that we pride ourselves on teaching the kids.
"To ban a watch during the postseason without a rationale or explanation, what justice are we doing the kids?"
None if you ask Panthers sophomores Lauren Robinson and Lydia Mathson, who were both wearing watches along with a good number of other competitors at Saturday’s Nashua North/South Invitational.
Robinson, the runner-up by 20.2 seconds to Pinkerton Academy’s Maison D’Amelio (19 minutes, 3.7 seconds) in the varsity girls race on Saturday, has worn a watch while running since the fifth grade. Being forced to change her training regimen in anticipation of the championship meets has been tough.
"I was pretty upset," Robinson said of when she first heard the new rule. "I wear my watch for every race. That’s how I figure out what pace I’m going. What I need to do, how much time I need to make up. To not have that on me it’s a lot more stressful."
Mathson, who finished 24th Saturday in 20:34.6, is just starting to get serious about running. She bought into the use of a watch for training and competing to help her improve.
"I ran in middle school, but I never wore a watch," Mathson said. "I started using a watch last year.
"It’s a big difference running with or without a watch. It’s a lot easier to see how far I’ve gone, how far I’m going and how fast I’m going. It really helps me. It helps all the girls and guys wearing them."
Milford boys and girls cross country coach Mike Wright took his disagreement with the rule a step further.
"Pure laziness," the sixth-year Spartans coach said. "OK, I get it. You want to stop kids from using GPS watches. Fine. Outlaw GPS watches in high school meets. What they did, because it might take a little more work checking wrists before races, was ban watches altogether.
"Jewelry was banned for years, but now the kids can wear whatever they want. Uniform rules have been adjusted. The entire team had to be wearing the same undergarments. Now if it’s over the knee it can be whatever color you want. Under the knee has to be a uniform color for everyone. Why an all-out ban of watches? Is it a national federation rule that they had to impose at the state level? I don’t think it is, so why make such a decision?"
It’s not a rule mandated by the National Federation Of State High School Associations, according to a representative out of its Indianapolis headquarters. But the federation does allow state associations to make their own guidelines regarding watches.
The NHIAA committee made theirs.
"It came up in discussions at our committee meeting and we made the decision to ban them," Boggis said. "The technology now is so far advanced, and not everybody can afford to own a watch with all the bells and whistles.
"These watches have GPS systems, they allow you see your pace, they have heart monitors, and some are phones that will let you talk to coaches while on the course. The price point on these watches can be somewhere from $200-$500. Not every kid can afford that. It’s just an unfair advantage."
That’s the explanation coaches were looking for but feel like they never received prior to the season.
Lougee, Wright, South boys co-coach Lori Lerude and Merrimack girls coach Cathy Merra were all surprised by the decision.
It came with no warning.
"You would think a rule change this big would come after talking to coaches statewide," Lerude said. "Any rule change in the last few years regarding uniforms or jewelry they’d talk to coaches. Why not this one? It just makes no sense. None."
Although Merra admits she would never personally run a race without a watch, it’s her job to get her Tomahawks used to running with bare wrists.
It’s been a steep learning curve.
"I just started having them train without their watches," Merra said. "It’s something new for most of them, but it’s something the need the get used to for meets. How else are you going to prepare for running without the watch if you’re always training with it?"
Like it or not, Merra wants to make sure her team is prepared to race by the rules, which she hopes might be reconsidered for next fall.
"I tend to just go with the flow," Merra said. "It is what it is. I was kind of surprised when I saw the P and P, but I have to respect the committee’s decision and hope it’s something that can be overturned next year."
Likewise, Robinson is hoping for a change of heart by committee members.
"I think they should definitely reconsider this," Robinson said. "A lot of girls use watches and it helps them a lot. I hope they do, but I don’t know if they will."
Not likely, according to Boggis – who makes up the committee along with chairman George Edwards, assistant chair Robert Royce, supervisor of officials Nancy Eastman, Steve Fountain, Lee Hess, Todd Kress, Noah Pion, Larry Martin and South’s Arthur Demers.
"I wouldn’t say it was the easiest decision," Boggis said, "but it’s definitely the fairest one. This is the best way to keep the playing field level."
Wright’s still not sure how level the playing field really is, especially with this rule in place.
"Now smaller teams with one coach are hindered," Wright said.
"We can’t be in more than one place to call out paces. Larger schools with more volunteer coaches can spread people out at different markers. That’s an unfair advantage for sure. With the watches, kids are able to keep their own pace and track their own times and speed.
"Watches are a vital tool for success in cross country and track. This rule makes no sense if we’re supposedly trying to give the kids every tool at their disposal to succeed. It’s as if the NHIAA is afraid of technology."