The Frank Kelley Invitational annually is the first stop on the cross-country calendar for many of the Bay State’s top high school runners. Traditionally, the destination is the Wrentham Developmental Center, in early October.
However, in 2020 traditions are running uphill against COVID-19 modifications, prompting officials from the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association to get a bit creative to organize this year’s event.
On Sunday, with the pandemic-prompted closure of the Wrentham course, more than 500 runners instead will converge on Highland Park in Attleboro for the MSTCA’s Kelley Invitational.
“The only two things that are the same are the name and the fact that some of the races at the original Frank Kelley were 5K’s,” said West Bridgewater coach Jayson Sylvain, a member of state coaches board.
Sylvain and Woburn coach James Fletcher, in his role as meet director, have spearheaded the push to bring pandemic-conscious invitationals to the fall season. As athletes continue to grapple with the MIAA’s modifications — dual meets only, no course previews, staggered starts, etc. — the MSTCA is hoping the Invitational provides a safe and competitive space to run.
This meet follows safety guidelines set by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EAA), and has been approved by the MIAA.
The MSTCA used an extra fall permit for the Mark Coogan XC course at Highland Park to secure a venue for Sunday’s 5K race.
“We originally planned to have a meet [at the Mark Coogan 5K course] this fall before the pandemic arrived, so we had a permit squared away,” Sylvain said.
With an expectedly massive field, the safety and efficiency of the race will be a focal point. Entrants will use chip timing and have to cross a starting mat and finishing mat to log a race time.
Like this season’s dual meets, runners will take off in waves of 12, spaced two minutes apart and with longer periodic breaks in between. For the fastest entries, the earlier waves will be seeded, and each wave will be gender-specific for boys and girls.
This sets the staff and directors up for a long day of competition; waves will be on the course from as early as 10 a.m. to after 4 p.m.
“I’ll be there at about 7 a.m., and I’ll probably leave around 5 p.m.,” Fletcher said.
Social distancing with be a high priority for such a large crowd. Fortunately, the surrounding area has a driving range with enough space for students to safely warm up and cool down. Each runner is also allowed to have only one spectator.
Unlike past years, the 2020 Frank Kelley Invitational is not a high school invitational — technically. Though the event is open only to Massachusetts high school students, runners register individually, and there will be no school buses lining up near Highland Park.
But even with these limitations, runners are desperate for the return of competitive racing.
“This is going to be an opportunity for them to compete at a high level with [runners] from other towns,” said Wellesley girls' coach Cassandra Short. “They’re so excited about it.”
Marshfield senior Sofia LoVuolo said she is “so grateful this is happening ... I do really want to do well and see where I’m at, because I feel like the dual meets don’t really reflect that for me right now.”
Having an official 5K time will be an asset for many seniors who have an eye at running collegiately, but have been unable to log that distance because dual meets are held on shorter courses.
“This invitational is one of our only courses that’s a full 5K, so it’ll be very helpful to have a 5K time [available],” Wellesley senior Arianna Cozza said.
If Sunday’s races go off without incident, it could open the future for more invitationals this fall. The first step is a safe run in Attleboro.
“We do plan on offering other meets this year,” Fletcher said. “I don’t want to jinx myself, but unless there’s a big hiccup on Sunday, I don’t think this will be the last meet we host as the MSTCA this fall.”
Setting the pace
▪ Marshfield was a program on the rise last fall, and the Rams returned five of their top seven boys this fall and all of their top girls. But there will be no title runs this fall with the cancellation of MIAA championship meets.
“The girls have the best team in school history,” Marshfield coach Dennis Sheppard said. “It is what it is, and it’s unfortunate, but we’re going to take advantage of what we have.”
Still, the Rams are off to a strong start, with both the boys' and girls' squads sitting at 3-0 on the young season. This week, the boys downed Plymouth North 20-38, while the girls also rolled to a 15-48 win over the Eagles.
▪ On Wednesday, Wellesley senior Drew Donahue set a new course record at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline — sort of. The distance is still 2.8 miles, but the course has been reversed.
Running in the Bay State Conference dual meet against host Brookline, Donahue was the winner in 15 minutes, 6 seconds. The record on the old layout was 14:55, but what was once a downhill slope near the end of the course is now an uphill climb.
▪ North Andover freshman Luke McGillivray is off to an impressive start. On Wednesday, McGillivray clocked a 2.9-mile time of 16:09.1, pacing the Knights to a 15-49 Merrimack Valley Conference win at Andover.
His last name is notable in the running community, His father, Dave, is the longtime race director of the Boston Marathon. “For a freshman he is fearless and doesn’t seem to be intimidated by anybody," said North Andover coach Rick Dellechiaie, noting that Sunday’s Kelley Invitational will be a test, as well as next week’s dual meet against Lowell. "As he gets older and stronger I foresee him being a force to reckon with at the larger state level meets.”
▪ McGillivray is not the only freshman that is making an impact. Last Saturday, Bishop Feehan ninth-grader Lauryn Augustyn finished a 5K meet against St. Joseph Prep in 20:02 — her second individual win of the season. Holliston freshman Carmen Luisi clocked a 2-mile time of 11:28 that same day in a 27-30 Tri-Valley League triumph over Norton.
Billerica freshman Ryan Leslie took the Indians to a season-opening 23-32 boys’ win over Tewksbury on Oct. 2, running the 2.85-mile course in 15:13. Even middle-schoolers are getting in on the action. Eighth-grader Ella Bates (17:14) led the Weymouth girls to a 16-43 win at Walpole on Wednesday.
▪ Sophomore Finleigh Simonds has propelled Haverhill to a 3-0 start in the Merrimack Valley Conference. She was first (19:33) in Wednesday’s win over Central Catholic. And with his time of 14:27.5, Methuen junior Freddy Coleman finished 51 seconds ahead of teammate Jason Dibble as the Rangers (3-0) cruised to a 17-42 Merrimack Valley Conference win over Tewksbury on Wednesday.