COVID-19 keeps playing tricks on sports in 2020, cancelling national championships and entire seasons and moving pro teams into "bubbles" with no spectators.
Meet director Barb Dzuricsko is hoping that District 10 puts together a treat of a meet for this year's XC championships on Halloween as she this week began scouting a replacement course for Buhl Park, the venerable layout that is off limits in 2020 due to the global pandemic.
"We decided to start to look elsewhere to have many other courses in our back pocket," Dzuricsko said of events that occurred after learning from park officials in mid-July that the state's 250-person restriction on outdoor gatherings would mean no races up Kite Hill on October 31. "I got a hold of (PIAA timer) Mark Courtney so he has been doing some work to try to find a site that can manage a couple races, do with the social distancing and not have fans, and (abide by) all the rules we need to follow.
"How do you do that for a 3.1-mile course in cross country? It's very hard."
Dzuricsko said the current directive on indoor and outdoor events occurred right after Buhl Park had resumed a traditional concert series with a crowd of about 2,000 for a Beatles tribute performance.
"I wasn't surprised when I got that back," she said of the e-mail July 18 from park Director of Operations Ryan Voisey that kickstarted the search for a replacement course and location and also resulted in the cancellation of this year's Sharpsville Blue Devil Invitational at Buhl.
Dzuricsko said District 10 Chairman Pete Iacino is permitting her "to look outside" of the district that includes all or part of seven counties in northwestern Pennsylvania.
"He said, 'Go look," she said of locating an established layout available on Halloween weekend that meets the necessary COVID-19 and meet criteria.
In 2015-17, District 10 conducted its track and field championships across state lines, going to SPIRE Institute outside Geneva, Ohio. The Buckeye state again appears to be an option as Dzuricsko and her husband and fellow track and XC official Bill visit possible replacement courses.
Currently, the short list includes "3 or 4 definite potentials" to replace Buhl Park this fall.
"I've got some help from many people in cross country that know courses that could possibly work," she said, adding that the walk-throughs on courses would happen this week and next.
Dzuricsko also said she is considering a two-day meet configuration as part of the options that she takes to District 10 leadership later this month.
"Once we visit all of these places, I'm going to give them scenarios A, B, C, D or whatever it is and see what they'll permit me to do," she added. "(Two days) is an option I'm going to present, but that doesn't mean that I will get the OK to do that. I'm searching for the package: The course and the people that can put it all together for us."
In addition to finding another course for this year's meet, Dzuricsko was also charged with devising a new qualifying system for 2020 that would create smaller fields to help keep athletes safe and healthy. Similar options are being considered throughout the PIAA, she added.
"I was asked to downsize," she said of limiting field sizes/qualifiers to this year's District 10 finale. "I can't come up with one that I feel comfortable with yet because it's not cut and dried. I haven't come up with one. I have been asked to look at it, not required yet. I have been asked to look at that potential.
"It's just nuts. I'll do whatever, ever is needed to make it work. Just the thought process is a lot of little details to follow to make it right for the kids."
Noting that a return to Buhl Park in 2021 will be up to district leadership, Dzuricsko lauded park officials for their work during her initial year as XC meet director in 2019 and in its lengthy run as a championship venue.
"Buhl Park is so wonderful to do anything I needed," said Dzuricsko, who lives near the almost 300-acre venue. "I was always pleased with everybody I worked with over there."
Dzuricsko also didn't completely write off having the state qualifiers at the Sharon park this year - if pandemic conditions change and rules are relaxed.
"At this stage of the game, I would say no because I know for me I want everybody to know where (the meet) is so they can get to places," she said. "I would doubt it right now, heavily doubt it that we would be there this year."