Girls cross country has a lot to look forward to this year, including a new assistant coach and a new race distance that finally brings gender equality to the sport.
The distance for girls races was recently changed from four kilometers to five kilometers, the distance boys cross country had already been racing.
“This is a big thing not just for runners, but for women in general,” said Madee Ferone, senior and one of the five captains leading the team this year.
Other captains include juniors Morgan Florsheim, Claire Stowe, Olivia Holbrook and senior Olivia Wycklendt. .
The difference between boys and girls races has brought the issue of gender equality into question.
Those who think the race should remain at four kilometers argue that girls are not tough enough to handle the training, racecourses or the hard work necessary to succeed in such a race, arguing that the increase would scare girls and prevent them from joining cross country.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) had the coaches vote on which distance the state should have for the girls cross country runners.
Divisions one and two voted in favor of upping the distance, while division three voted to keep the distance at four kilometers.
Historically, girls did not even run the four kilometer race. They started at only a mile and a half, then moved to two miles and finally to two and a half miles, the maximum possible.
However, every time race distances changed, the arguments were the same.
“There is no scientific proof that girls are unable to race five kilometers. In fact, … girls are perfectly capable,” said Sarah Kopplin, head coach.
Many were unhappy with the decision to keep the race at four kilometers, so a complaint was filed with the Federal Office of Civil Rights, the government division responsible for dealing with any issues that could lead to a potential loss of civil rights.
Those who filed the complaint argued that not changing the race distance was sexual discrimination against women.
The Office of Civil Rights began an investigation by asking the WIAA to give them all the information they had on the subject. This could have led to the filing of a lawsuit about gender discrimination against all girls that run high school cross country in the state of Wisconsin.
“The WIAA took some time to reflect and realized they could not win, so they changed the race distance to five kilometers,” Kopplin said.
This change also brings expectations this year for the girls to step up and conquer the same race distance as their male counterparts. Despite this, the girls are not intimidated.
“I think this is a really great way to prove how strong women are,” said Micaela Gayner, sophomore. “Cross country takes guts, mind and heart.”
The change in race distance will not affect the team’s physical training. However, that does not mean that the change comes free of challenges.
“There is not one day in the season where the runners run less than 3.1 miles,” Kopplin said.
“It’s more of a mindset that we are going to have to change,” Ferone said.
Wisconsin is the 41st state to make the change to the five kilometer distance. The other nine states that have not adapted the change are Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Mississippi, Oklahoma and both North and South Dakota.
Additionally, the girls cross country program has a new volunteer assistant coach: Nick Szczech.
“Nick has a very impressive running resume,” Kopplin said.
Szczech won the Lakefront Marathon in 2011 and has had one of the top ten times in the country in a variety of other events.
“Nick is a great addition to team; I hope we can have him around for a long time,” Gayner said.
Last year, over 18 seniors left the program, causing the team to worry about the future. Despite this, the freshmen filled in the holes, adding 13 new members.
“I have never seen a freshman class work that hard over the summer,” Kopplin said.
This year’s 41 team members are training to be in great shape. Even with a small senior class, resulting in more junior captains, the team is working very well together.
“They all bring something special to the team,” Kopplin said.
Although the team is excited for the changes this season will bring, they still want to stay true to their past.
“One of our team goals every year is to keep the positive feeling we have always had in cross country,” Gayner said.
The girls won their first home meet to kick off the season on the August 28, and will race against West Allis on September 3.
by Monica and Martha Dix