“A couple of years ago, we had to call an ambulance for kids who became overheated,” Petersen said. “We’ve had to take more precautions since then.”
But the Run-A-Ree met its match in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped the entire fall cross country season. But even if the fall season has been allowed to continue, it’s likely the Run-A-Ree would not have been held as schedule last Friday.
“That’s what I texted my coaches,” Petersen said. “There’s no way we would have been running with all this smoke.”
But that wasn’t the only message Petersen sent to his coaches last week.
After several months of deliberation, last week Petersen notified Bay athletic director Greg Roberts that he was retiring as cross country coach after 25 seasons. Petersen had previously retired as Bay’s boys track and field coach in the spring of 2019.
“I decided it was time to stop thinking with my heart and start thinking with my head,” said Petersen, 66. “At my age, I’m in that high-risk group. It just didn’t seem wise to be around the kids, taking long bus rides and being outside in the weather, especially if the season was going to be held in March.”
Cross country is now slotted into Season 3 of the WIAA’s revised 2020-21 calendar, which runs in March and April.
When Petersen took over the Bay cross country program in 1995, the Run-A-Ree consisted of five teams. Last year, it had grown to 33 high school teams and 15 middle schools, putting more than 1,200 runners on the course.
“I’m really proud of how we were able to grow the meet,” Petersen said. “It’s led to some problems, but they are good problems to have.”
Along with the bigger meet have come some very talented runners.
“That first year, we had a kid – Shawn Beitelspacher — break the course record, and I remember thinking that record would stand for a long time,” Petersen said. “He ran 16 minutes and won by 45 seconds. But every year, we’d have kids come in who were just getting faster and faster.”
Petersen recalled names like Evergreen’s Paul Limpft, Battle Ground’s Brian Conrath and Skyview’s Matt Moncur. On the girls side, he recalled Hockinson’s Sarah and Shannon Porter, as well as Skyview’s Ana Cabrera, who is now the anchor of the weekend primetime edition of CNN Newsroom.