For the first time in more than 20 years and only the second time in history, there will be no Howard County Invitational this fall.
The heavy rains that soaked the area the past two weeks left Centennial High School's cross country course "unsafe" according to Al Dodds, who coaches Centennial's boys and helps run the meet. After weighing the options, the decision was made to cancel the meet.
"I had some serious concerns about the safety of the kids. We hadn't ever had this much rain leading up to the Howard County Invitational," Dodds said. "The first couple races may have been passable, but once you get to those later races with inexperienced runners, and more of them, it would have been too dangerous."
Dodds said the only other time the early-season race had been canceled was back in the late 1980s thanks to an impending hurricane. This time around, it was the combination of Hurricane Irene last week and more flooding rains this week that forced the hand of meet officials.
"With the amount of rain we've had, the course simply wouldn't have held up. We still have the county championship and region races later in the year, so we had to keep that in mind," Dodds said.
Rescheduling the meet for a future date was not a feasible option because most teams' weekends are already booked with other races.
One of the advantages of the annual Howard County Invitational is that it provides the 12 county public high schools, along with several non-county schools, the chance to run against one another early in the season. This year more than 1,000 runners were expected to participate in the boys and girls A, B and C races.
"It's a great opportunity for teams in the county to see each other and it's also nice as a coach to have your kids run at Centennial now so you have a barometer to see just how much progress they've made by the time counties rolls around in October," River Hill coach Earl Lauer said. "But safety is the No. 1 priority and with the unusual weather pattern we've had, precautions had to be taken."
Lauer points out that most teams will still get the chance to run against one another elsewhere throughout the regular season. His Hawks, for example, saw Centennial and Mt. Hebron already at the Interstate Classic on Sept. 3.
Then, in a couple weeks at Hereford, the majority of the county's teams will compete at the Bull Run meet.
For now, though, there's a little more mystery than usual as the season gets underway.
"(The Invitational) is always a great chance to see how you stack up, where you sit in relation to everyone else," Dodds said. "I don't think not having it changes the way anyone is going to train or anything, but it does mean there might be a few more surprises when everyone gets together at the end of the year."