Potential lawsuit pushes association to change

Junior Maddy Bradley begins to pass an Urbandale runner during the state meet. Urbandale finished second behind Johnston by 18 points.

Anne Rogers

Junior Maddy Bradley begins to pass an Urbandale runner during the state meet. Urbandale finished second behind Johnston by 18 points.

Myles Glandorf, Staff Writer

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It’s common knowledge within the Iowa running community that the distance girls run shorter races than their male counterparts.

However, that will change next fall. It has been decided that the cross country girls will no longer race the 4k, opting for the 5k instead.

A 5k is 3.1 miles and is considerably longer than the 4k (2.5 mi). Traditionally, the boys team have run 5k races and the girls run 4k races.

The change was most likely a result of legal action taken in Wisconsin, where the state was sued in federal court for a gender equality violation for having different distances between boys and girls races. The case did not go very far, however, Wisconsin increased the girls distance to 5k. “Our association looked at that and said that they didn’t want to get sued,” head girls’ cross country coach Pat Hennes said.

Another reason that could have contributed to the alteration was because Iowa was one of the few states left that still ran a 4k. “The association wanted to put us in line with what the other states were so comparison-wise, preparation for college-wise and just the opportunity for them was really the primary reason,” athletic director Gary Ross said. “We wore one of only four (states) in the country that didn’t run 5k for the girls.”

Ross has no problems with the modification. “I like the aspect of cross country and (regardless of the distance) as long as kids are excited about it and want to participate to me that’s the most important,” he said. “I have a sense that it’s supported by our people and it makes good sense why we were doing it so I support that.”

Opinions have been divided throughout the state over the subject of change.”It’s something that some coaches have wanted for awhile and other coaches were very resistant to,” Hennes said. “Ultimately, it’s the association that has the power to make the decision, and so it took the threat of a potential lawsuit to cause them to take action.”

Sophomore Biz Foutch is not fazed by the extra distance. “I actually think I’ll like it more,” she said. “A lot of people are mad about it, (but) I’m fine with it.”

One of the leading arguments against altering the distance was that it may affect the number of people who go out for the sport. Hennes believes that this will not be the case. “I think it was Nebraska that changed from 4k to 5k, and when they did they made sure to track what happened and they actually had more girls come out when it was a 5k,” he said. “So it certainly didn’t have a negative impact.”

The additional 1k does not personally bother Hennes. “If I had to choose I would probably say 5k,” He said. “But I was not one of the coaches that was heavily involved in trying to push 5k.”

The transition will probably not have much of an impact on training. “The Nike regional and national meets are 5ks,” Hennes said. “So we train for that anyways.” The varsity and top JV runners were the ones that primarily did the 5k training.

The biggest revision in training will be for the ones who did not run varsity or part of the top JV, since they usually run less miles. “We’ll probably add a little more distance for our JV, (for instance) instead of doing 4×1000 repeats they’ll do 5×1000 repeats,” Hennes said. “But it won’t make a significant difference.”

Foutch will have to make a few tweaks to her running in response to the 5k. “I’m going to have to pace it different obviously,” she said. “It will maybe take a while to get used to that.”

Along with the new distance, new records will be set next year.  There are already two cross country record boards displayed for the girls 2-mile and then for girls 4k, and next year the 5k record board will make its first appearance. That does not necessarily mean the end of the 4k and 2-mile records though, “We wouldn’t want to get rid of the history of the cross country,” Ross said. “Otherwise, you lose Obsie Birru and you lose Jordyn Kleve and you lose those kids that to me are really the history of our cross country, and I’m sure coach wouldn’t want to (get rid of them) either.”

Foutch thinks that it is possible the team’s attitude will also be different at the start of the season. “We’ll probably hear a lot of complaining at first,” Foutch said. “I think when they get used to it they’ll be fine and they won’t really notice (the extra distance) hopefully.”

For the most part, Hennes likes the change. “I think its probably a positive,” he said. “It’s too bad it had to take the threat of a lawsuit to do what was probably the right thing to begin with, but I guess whatever it takes.”

Ross thinks that the switch to 5k may work towards Johnston’s favor. “We have really good tradition and our kids very much take it seriously,” Ross said. “I think they’ll respond very well to the extra distance.”

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