Sheboygan Lutheran is four miles from both North and South.
The Crusaders are competing in fall sports, but the Golden Raiders and Redwings will have to wait until spring to play football or volleyball.
“The whole thing is bizarre,” Lutheran cross country coach Jeff Jurss said.
His team started practice last week, around the same time the Fox River Classic Conference announced it was moving all fall sports to spring.
So while the Crusaders are gearing up for their season, North and South have to wait until March 15 for cross country to begin.
“We’re outside, we’re spread out, you know?” Jurss said. “It’s just strange to me. The only time you’re together is at the starting line, and many schools have huge starting lines that you can spread it out.”
Nonetheless, there is a strangeness to Lutheran’s season while trying to practice during a pandemic. And other coaches in the Big East Conference that Jurss has talked to agreed.
“You spend more time making sure your kids are trying to follow the protocols than actually getting the work done,” Jurss said.
Non-race related events have also changed.
“It’s all those extra things,” Jurss said. “Our pasta party, we usually have pancake breakfast on Saturdays after Thursday or Friday meets, we love hanging out in the tent before and after a meet in the little camp area, and all those things are discouraged. You can’t do any of that. So the things they love about cross country are really being kind of taken away.”
The bottom line, however, is his athletes are happy they are once again doing something together.
“For me, it’s like inspiring and makes me feel so good to see them out there competing and practicing and working hard, to be a part of their enthusiasm and excitement,” the coach said. “They aren’t down about the situation they’re in, they’re just taking advantage of opportunities they have right now. Knowing that North and South don’t have athletics going on, they know there’s that chance that it could be pulled.
“So every day they come to practice, they’re just happy to be there. And it’s been refreshing. Because there’s times sports can be a drag, with everyday practice and that kind of stuff. They’ve been, ‘this is awesome, we get to do stuff.’”
Lutheran’s boys finished as Big East runner-up and missed qualifying for state by 12 points.
But all five runners return, including four seniors.
“We should be really, really good,” Jurss said.
One senior, Dominic Willadsen, advanced to the individual state meet thanks to an 11th-place finish at sectionals.
“I was really hoping cross country wouldn’t be cancelled, so it’s nice we actually get to have our season,” he said. “I mean, even if some meets are cancelled, it’s better than nothing.”
Willadsen is also coming off a sixth-place showing at the conference meet.
“Winning it would be ideal,” he said. “But I’m just hoping to get as high up as I can and have the team do the best we can for this year.”
Junior Logan Zak placed seventh at the Big East Championship, ahead of senior teammates Jonah Jurss (16th), Hans Gruben (20th) and Matt Witte (21st).
Because of all the talent, Jurss put together a schedule that was challenging, highlighted by big-time meets against tough schools.
The plan was to travel to Wausau, Luxemburg, Wisconsin Dells, Winneconne, but they were all cancelled because of the virus.
“I don’t know if they got scared, the facility they host it at is scared or they just feel it’s the right thing to do,” Jurss said. “So we’re like scrambling now to fill out our schedule. We’ve called around to other schools that are having meets and they’re all saying they are accepting no teams.
“In fact, they’re having to cut teams. So we might host five or six meets at our school because nobody else is having them.”
As of last week, Jurss was unsure if the season-opener would be this week in Two Rivers.
If not, Lutheran will host its first meet of the season on Sept. 4.
The Crusader girls finished seventh at the Big East meet and have to replace their top three runners from the team.
The top returners are sophomore Audrey Schmideler and juniors Ellie Fredericks and Ambryn Diener.