Running the runners

Joe Schroeder explains the logistics of managing 893 runners at the cross-country invitational this past weekend.

Cross-country Coach Joe Schroeder talks to his team after a meet during last year's season. Mr. Schroeder was responsible for organizing the 2017 Vineyard Cross Country Invitational.

How do you get 26 teams, with 893 individual runners, their coaches, and their parents to the Island of Martha’s Vineyard?

That’s a good question for Joe Schroeder, coach of the MVRHS cross-country team and organizer of the 11th Vineyard Invitational cross-country meet, and so The Times asked it.

Most teams, including some from as far away as Connecticut, arrive on the 8:15 boat, giving them time to travel to the school and examine the course. To accommodate ferry travel, the MVRHS invitational starts at 11 am, which is significantly later than most cross-country events, which usually begin around 9:30 am. Teams typically do not stay overnight, and aim to head back on a ferry in the late afternoon, Mr. Schroeder said.

Despite its smooth run, managing an event of this size is no simple feat. “There are lots of things that you have to do way way ahead of time. I start planning for this in February or March because I need the State Athletic Association to sanction the meet, and then I need permission from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to use the State Forest,” said Mr. Schroeder.

Once the event has been approved, issues such as transportation, safety, and the organization of the event must be addressed. Bus drivers are hired to shuttle runners back and forth to the ferry. Medical staff employed by the school, known as trainers, are requested for the event. “The trainers are a big piece. When you have 800 or 900 kids running, there are bound to be some issues,” said Mr. Schroeder. Three trainers were onsite at the invitational event. Trainers assist with any medical tasks, ranging from helping kids who are in distress from heat exhaustion or dehydration to assisting with an acute injury and, if need be, medical transportation.

ATVs are secured for the event to provide extra safety and assistance. One ATV leads the race, with a spotter on the back to prevent anyone from getting lost. The second ATV follows the race, and is equipped with medical supplies to deal with any medical emergency that may arise, said Mr. Schroeder.

This event consists of two races, a 3K, or freshmen race, and a 5K. The 3K is a special race, in that it is co-ed, said Mr. Schroeder: “You never really get to see guys and girls compete against one another at a high school level. It adds an extra incentive for both genders.” The track begins in the MVRHS athletic field and funnels into the State Forest. Due to the changes in track size, it can be very interesting to watch, said Mr. Schroeder.

Throughout the years, the event has continued to expand. In 2006, the year of the invitational’s founding, the only team to come was Notre Dame Academy, which had only a girls team. While it is not the biggest event of its type, with some cross-country events having up to 3,000 runners, it has become a popular cross-country event throughout New England, and a great promoter for the Island. “It’s a big boost for the Island when all these young people are walking around Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven and experiencing the Island,” said Mr. Schroeder.

The MVRHS-led cross-country invitational is one of the first of the season. As such, the event is not used to establish rankings, but to build team spirit and trust. “We’re really trying to get kids out there and experience a big meet. It may give your team confidence, but it doesn’t affect the rankings,” said Mr. Schroeder. “Teams come here as an incentive to train during the summer and for a team-building activity.”