UPDATE (Sunday, 10/22): In an email to coaches on Sunday, WPIAL officials informed coaches that course is yet to be designed and maps "will be available upon arrival Thursday," the day of the district meet.
One of Pennsylvania's finest high school cross country courses apparently is getting a redesign only days before the WPIAL (District 7) championships are contested at Cooper's Lake in Butler County.
WPIAL coaches were notified Thursday afternoon (Oct. 19) via e-mail from meet director Tom Norris that the 5K course used for various invitationals, including last Saturday's Slippery Rock University Mack Cooper Invitational, and the district meet will be changed for the PIAA qualifier on Oct. 26.
According to the e-mail, a decision by Cooper's Lake management to close the area used as the main bus parking lot has made it "necessary to change the course which will be used for the WPIAL Championships. Maps will be available at the trailer when you pick up your chips."
"Cooper's Lake has closed the course until Thursday morning," the e-mail continued. "Please do not take your runners there to walk or run the course prior to Thursday."
Phone messages left at the WPIAL office for Norris, who is out of town according to a WPIAL official, and Slippery Rock University coach and course architect John Papa were not returned by 2:30 p.m. today. Phone messages also were left with other members of the WPIAL steering committee and not immediately returned.
An e-mail to the owners/managers at Cooper's Lake also was not returned, while the WPIAL website's main or cross country pages were not updated with course information as of this afternoon.
Coaches contacted today were not happy with the timing of the change and anxious to get any information they could about a new course configuration.
"My best analogy would be a golfer getting ready for a match and then being told the course will change but you not finding out to where until that day," one coach who requested anonymity said. "All strategy and planning goes out the window."
Participants in last Saturday's Mack Cooper Invitational used the layout that has been the standard over the past decade plus at the complex, which is home to a variety of events throughout the year.
"A change with a week to go after 50 to 60 schools just ran the course on the 14th is not right," Baldwin coach Rich Wright said of the only high school meet on the course this year. "But as a coach our job is to prepare our athletes for any and all situations. So we will be ready."
Ed Helbig, who is a member of the WPIAL steering committees for track and cross country, was surprised by the timing of the change, considering the running of last week's invitational that attracted many teams with a WPIAL course preview in mind.
"The course they ran was the original course we have run for years," Helbig said.
Although disappointed with the news thus far, Helbig noted that the playing field remains level.
"No one knows why it has to be right now," he continued. "We know now we are in the same boat. It's a situation that isn't good for anyone, whether it means anything for the future up there."
Photo by Doug Michaels
While modifications - temporary or permanent - to the 5K high school course are still not known, changes already are in place for the layouts in use for this Saturday's Catholic Grade School Championships at Cooper's Lake. According to maps sent this week to team coaches, the downhill segments of the original course that run parallel to the finish straightaway have been eliminated from the 1.5-mile and 3,000-meter courses.
Meet director Stacy Kopchak, who also is head coach of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, said she received the new course maps late Wednesday from SRU's Papa and distributed them that day to coaches. Kopchak noted that she has no information about the changes to the high school course that her Class A teams will run next week, but she is looking at the positive side of the change.
"I think the course will be fine," she said. "I don't think the land over to the left, if that's where (Papa) will have it, is hillier, and it might bring better times.
"Now this course is going to be different, especially if they change it back next year. I am presenting it as a huge positive because everybody has had a tough day there. It is going to be our girls who are going to be the first to go. All others are going to watch how it's run by the single A group."
In addition to every WPIAL meet since 2005, Cooper's Lake has been the site of PSAC and NCAA regional meets on several occasions along with the Division II national championships in 2008.