“We’ve been bulging at the seams for the past couple of years,” said Kyle Rohrer, activities director at Powell Middle School.
In the past two seasons, 24 middle school students have gone out for cross country — up from about 16-18 in previous years.
“The last two years have been the biggest,” said Cliff Boos, head coach for cross country at Powell High School. “I think it’s just going to grow.”
The middle school doesn’t have a cross country coach, so the two PHS coaches — Boos and Ashley Hildebrand — also oversee the middle school program.
Numbers have reached a point where an additional coach should be considered, Rohrer told the Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees last month.
“The high school cross country team is expected to be at roughly 30-35 athletes and the middle school will likely average between 15-20 athletes,” Rohrer wrote in a letter to the board. “The possibility of 45-55 athletes for two coaches raises a concern for safety.”
Rohrer proposed adding an assistant coach position that would be based on cross country participants. So, if the numbers between both schools exceed 30 students, an additional assistant coach would be hired for the middle school team.
“A 15:1 ratio will provide adequate supervision for the athletes as they are running around town on the city streets,” Rohrer wrote.
With middle school and high school kids running together, “we have varied levels of athleticism,” Rohrer told the school board during a meeting last month.
“You’ve got a senior running competitively and a seventh-grader that’s maybe giving something a shot ...,” Rohrer said. “You start talking about spreading those kids out across town, and you’ve got one up front, one in the back — that could be quite a distance.”
That makes it difficult for two coaches, especially if there are up to 50 students.
School board Vice Chairman Trace Paul agreed it’s a safety concern.
In the past, volunteers helped coach the middle school cross country team, but no one has stepped forward in recent years, coach Boos said.
“We’re looking for volunteers, but we just can’t find any,” he said.
Rohrer said in talking with the coaches and PHS Activities Director Tim Wormald, they understand the budget is a concern.
“Obviously, we realize this is a tough time,” Rohrer told the board.
But the increase in participation is a good problem to have, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of kids that are interested [in cross country] and they want to be involved, and that’s a great situation to be in,” Rohrer said.
He said he has talked with other 3A schools, and middle schools around the Big Horn Basin typically have a cross country coach; a lot of those schools offer sports for sixth-graders, too, while Powell Middle School only offers sports for seventh- and eighth-graders.
As a parent with a student in cross country, school board member Kim Dillivan said Powell has a wonderful program.
“Your increase in participation rate is a reflection of the quality program,” Dillivan said.
Rohrer said the coaches do a great job, and he said it’s worked well to blend the high school and middle school teams.
“The high-schoolers kind of take them under their wings, and middle-schoolers really enjoy it,” he said.
The middle school team’s season is shorter, and Rohrer said a new assistant coach would finish the season with the middle school kids, rather than going to the conference and state tournaments with the PHS team.
The school board will decide whether to add another coach at a future meeting.