A perfect day for running

Andy Colbert

It was off to Peoria for the state cross-country meet this past week. I hadn’t covered the state meet for a few years and after my alma mater Rochelle and hometown Oregon lost playoff games, I felt like a break from football anyway.

Compared to a year ago when the course was a mud bath, it was a perfect day for running, with sunny skies, negligible winds and ideal temps. Admittedly, football is more exciting to watch than cross country, but what a joy to witness a sea of runners at Detweiller Park, along with family and friends supporting them.

If your kid is on the cross-country team, you better believe that sport is more important to you than the more-popular football or volleyball. When I was in high school, I never would have done cross country because of the work it entailed. Credit to the young people that do.

I’ve developed an affinity for it much later in life. It’s kind of like eating lima beans. Never would have eaten them when younger, but now they are taste good.

In assessing the state meet, the balance of power for the small schools is in the central and southern parts of the state, not so much in northern Illinois anymore.

Of the top-100 finishers for the 1A girls, the only places from around here were a 43rd and 99th by Winnebago girls.

On the boys side, Rockford Christian (eighth) and Winnebago (12th) still hold their own and Byron sophomore Tim Starwalt was 32nd out of 256 competitors, only seven spots out of all-state status. Still, it was schools like Tuscola, Benton and Elmwood dominating, none of whom have soccer.

For larger 2A and 3A schools there are plenty of kids to support both cross country and soccer. For 1A, not so much and often the best runners at a school opt for soccer instead.

Likewise, with volleyball. Its popularity easily surpasses long-distance running among high school age girls. There is glamour in volleyball and not in cross country.

It was disappointing that only eight of the 64 IHSA football playoff games last week were on Friday. Granted, there is a better chance of milder weather is during the daytime, but we’re not in the dead of winter. Just because a team had played the Saturday before, doesn’t mean they can’t come back on a Friday, but hardly anyone ever does.

Coaches cite that rest is needed. That’s hogwash. These are able-bodied teenagers with all kinds of energy.

In the early years of the playoffs, teams played on both Wednesday and Saturday of the first week. Nobody seemed to be tired from that endeavor.

Why would you be? There’s an intoxicating element to being in the playoffs.

With Stillman Valley and Forreston losing second round games, Ogle County is down to Byron and Polo left.

Forreston losing to Le-Win was not a surprise, but a running clock with 2:27 left in the third quarter was. Not much more to say than that. Le-Win has built such a dynasty that Forreston, one of the elite programs in 1A, can’t even compete with them anymore.

With how powerful Le-Win has become, there is no shame in that. Even with the loss, Forreston has to be considered one of the top-five teams in the state for 2023.

Polo defeating Milledgeville in eight-man was not an upset, though the Missiles took it to the Marcos 58-22 in the regular season. I covered the earlier game and it appeared both teams were evenly matched, but Milledgeville made plays and Polo did not.

What is hard to figure out is how Milledgeville scored 58 points in the first game and only 6 in the second one?

Getting back to Friday night football. There is only one Friday night game in the third round and it is between two unlikely quarterfinalists, Sandwich and Wheaton Academy in 4A.

Sandwich’s program was so demoralized that they couldn’t even field a varsity team last year. Additionally, they have three bad losses this year.

Wheaton is 10-1, but plays a weak schedule and lost to a 1A opponent. So, how did these two reach the quarterfinals?

It’s all about the luck of the draw, with several weak teams in the same 8-team quadrant. One of them will have the good fortune of reaching the semifinals.

With so many good schools, like Forreston, getting knocked out early, it doesn’t seem fair. However, the IHSA doesn’t seed teams on ability, but on a non-biased formula.

Andy Colbert is a longtime Ogle County resident with years of experience covering sports and more for multiple area publications.