By Rick Cleary
The impact of COVID-19 on the fall 2020 athletic season for Wellesley High School meant the postponement of some sports, such as football, and some major changes to the format of others, including soccer. Cross country running had fewer changes to deal with. There’s relatively little contact between athletes, there is no equipment to share, and all events are held outdoors where transmission risk appears to be very low. But fewer changes doesn’t mean “no changes” and the Wellesley High School team faced a big change that needed to be resolved in a short time. They needed a new place to run!
For many years Wellesley had hosted home meets at the Elm Bank Reservation along the Charles River, but the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the property’s manager, did not extend an invitation to return in 2020. Coaches Colin Corkery (boys’ team) and Cassie Short (girls’ team) brainstormed with runners and booster club parents about possible locations. Wellesley residents, ask yourself: Where would you go to have about 80 high school kids run a race of 2.5 to 3.1 miles, with room to start waves of 10 runners at a time, socially distanced six feet apart, on a course and so they don’t pass each other going in opposite directions? You want varied terrain and not all pavement, and you want to avoid traffic and stay away from trails that are crowded with people and dogs. You also need someplace where you can mark the course in an environmentally sensitive way, but clearly enough that runners know where to go.
Various ideas were floated. The area around the Middle School and Sprague fields? Too crowded with soccer players and not enough room to make the course long enough. Centennial Park? Not enough room for a start/finish area and too many dogs and walkers. Trails on or near the Babson and Wellesley College campuses were off limits. The Brook Path? Too many road crossings. But one area held some promise.
Remember all the buzz about what to do with the North 40 land that the town of Wellesley acquired from Wellesley College a few years ago? Criss-crossed with trails of varying widths, adjacent to the Morses Pond access road and a parking lot that could serve as a start/finish area, it seemed a good candidate. The question remained whether there was room to fit a long enough course. In mid-September, booster parent Rick Cleary and Jeff Dosdall, the captain of the 1970 WHS cross country team, met to scout the area. Using some aerial photos and their GPS watches, the two were able to map out a 2.8 mile course that met all COVID restrictions. Now with a candidate course, various approvals were needed. WHS Athletic Director John Brown contacted the requisite agencies and councils and was pleased that they were enthusiastic about the area being used. The team had a home.
And it worked well. During Wednesdays in October and early November, there were four racing days, two for the boys and two for the girls. (Usually the same school hosts both groups, but reducing the number of students and spectators at each site was another COVID adaptation.) Wellesley protected home turf, winning all of its races there.
Parents and other adult spectators at high school sports events might look on and think, “Wow, that looks like fun! I wish I could play!” While most teams won’t let them in the game, the cross country course is on public trails so anyone can walk it or run it. Give it a try (at your own risk). The course map is below and brief instructions follow that. And if you’d like to compare your time to the WHS athletes, here are the fall 2020 results.
Varsity 2.8-mile course
- Start in the middle of the Morses Pond parking lot. Take off toward the beach and follow the paved trail/roadway around the small pond, keeping the pond on runner’s left. A to B to C on map.
- Proceed up Morses Pond Access Road; turn right onto Crosstown Trail (point D on map)
- Watch for trail to left off Crosstown Trail. Take it. One mile mark just after the left turn.
- Now the tricky part (preview this before trying to set a record): Watch for a small purple arrow indicating marked turn to the right. (Point F.) Then ignore next small arrow that points left, then watch for left turn to point G at community gardens. (During home races we would rake this area to make it clear; and nobody got lost!)
- Proceed almost all the way around community gardens to a sharp u-turn at point H; then after long straightaway continue straight (point I) onto a trail that will lead you to a boardwalk.
- Follow boardwalk (there is a left turn in the middle) out to Turner Road (point J). Turn left onto Turner Road sidewalk.
- Take Turner Road and Morses Pond access road straight back to point C, go around the small pond, this time keeping it on your right, and finish in the middle of the parking lot again.
For the junior varsity course, about 2.4 miles, skip the second lap around the small pond and run straight to the finish.