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INDOOR TRACK & FIELD

Despite no official winter season, MSTCA running against the grain with invitational meets at Wheaton

Kacie To of Weymouth clears a hurdle Saturday at Wheaton College, which has been hosting MSTCA invitational meets this winter after the MIAA pushed the start of the official indoor track season to February.
Kacie To of Weymouth clears a hurdle Saturday at Wheaton College, which has been hosting MSTCA invitational meets this winter after the MIAA pushed the start of the official indoor track season to February.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

NORTON — When the MIAA Board of Directors voted Nov. 20 to move the indoor track and field season to Fall II (which begins Feb. 22), they cited a lack of available facilities as the driving force behind the decision to postpone.

The MIAA Track & Field Committee recommended the change and said the Reggie Lewis Center and other facilities would likely be unavailable until January, and that would create a scheduling conflict between organizations searching for venues.

It didn’t take long for the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association to develop an alternate plan. Since Dec. 12, the MSTCA has been holding indoor track and field events nearly every week at the Evelyn Danzig Haas Athletic Center on the campus of Wheaton College.

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“This is to keep kids doing something,” said Burlington boys’ coach Matt Carr, who is serving as meet director for the MSTCA’s events at Wheaton. “Some people obviously want to run a personal best, but a lot of people just want to get out and get moving.”

Joel Lisoma of Peabody pulls ahead of the field in the 300 meters during Saturday's Bay State Running Invitational at Wheaton College.
Joel Lisoma of Peabody pulls ahead of the field in the 300 meters during Saturday's Bay State Running Invitational at Wheaton College.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Saturday’s event — the Bay State Running Invitational — was the fourth of seven meets the MSTCA booked at Wheaton before the Fall II season is set to begin. The MSTCA will hold events the next three Saturdays, culminating with the MSTCA Cup on Jan. 30.

Carr and West Bridgewater cross-country coach Jayson Sylvain, who also served as a meet director Saturday, both credited MSTCA Director of Marketing Tim Cimeno, a Sharon High coach and Marathon Sports employee, for securing Wheaton as a site.

“He knew there was a chance that the facility could be open and pursued it,” Sylvain said of Cimeno.

Carr said about 245 kids attended Saturday’s BSR Invitational, down from about 260 participants at the Holiday Challenge on Dec. 29. All of the meets are open to members of high school graduating classes from 2017-2024, drawing a wide pool of participants from around the state.

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Runners keep their distance as they dress and warm up, and are only allowed into the facility in small groups and must exit following their events.
Runners keep their distance as they dress and warm up, and are only allowed into the facility in small groups and must exit following their events.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Because the MSTCA is holding the events independent of the MIAA, athletes must register individually and pay a $20 entry fee on their own. Athletes are “unattached” from their respective schools, meaning they only capture individual scores rather than work toward team results.

Masks are also mandatory for all attendees, which is limited to athletes, MSTCA employees/volunteers and a handful of coaches. Despite various COVID-19 protocols, the athletes say they’re thrilled to compete.

“I’m super thankful we’re able to have this opportunity to run, especially during this winter when we thought there wasn’t going to be any meets at all,” said Natick senior Emma Forde, a Merrimack commit who won Saturday’s girls’ 2-mile run (11:53.15).

Saturday was also the first event included in the MSTCA’s 2021 Grand Prix Competition, which requires athletes to compete in at least two different events in at least three of the four remaining meets. Carr said it was introduced as an incentive to encourage kids to enter numerous events and attend multiple meets.

He was also quick to praise Wheaton for being the perfect host the past several weeks.

“Wheaton could not be more helpful — the staff has been amazing,” Carr said.

Runners take off from the starting line in a 1,000-meter heat during Saturday's Bay State Running Invitational, one of seven MSTCA events being held at Wheaton College through the end of January.
Runners take off from the starting line in a 1,000-meter heat during Saturday's Bay State Running Invitational, one of seven MSTCA events being held at Wheaton College through the end of January.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

One of the biggest challenges Carr has had to face as event director has been clearing athletes from the building. There are strict policies in place for athletes to enter the building at certain times depending on in which events they’re competing. Once finished, they must quicky exit.

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“I was literally tossing kids out,” Carr said. “They finished the race and I was like, ‘Sorry, you have to leave now because we have another group coming in and you cannot be here.’”

It’s not the same as a traditional winter season, but the athletes and coaches who have attended multiple events believe they’re gaining an edge for the Fall II season. Jill Paige, Tewksbury’s sprinting coach, said the underclassmen in attendance should feel a noticeable confidence boost.

“Giving them this experience is amazing because when Fall II happens — or if Fall II happens — they’ll already have these races under their belts,” Paige said, “and they’ll go into the season more confident than the other freshmen and sophomores that haven’t been running or practicing.”