RANTOUL — Cross country coaches use different techniques to keep things fresh for their high school charges. Nick Cole used a scavenger hunt one day last week for the Rantoul Township High School runners.

One clue, for example, was to find a goose and snap a photo. Another was to find a political sign in someone’s yard. Take a photo of one of the town’s water towers was another item.

“It keeps it fun, and it’s a way to build a team,” said Cole, who is in his first year directing the program.

Team running Aug. 19

Rantoul Township High School cross country runners complete a warmup lap at the start of practice on the track last week.

“It’s not how I envisioned my first year,” Cole said, “but seeing that other sports got pushed back, we’re very grateful to be able to do what we’re doing.”

Coaches can only do so much to create a change of pace due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In years past, the team would take a bus and do trail runs. They haven’t been able to do that this year.

Cross country started its practices last week. But the sport is one in which the athletes can do a lot on their own. Running is running, no matter whether a coach is present or not. It’s just easier to get motivated when a coach is on hand.

One incentive during the summer was logging multiple miles. Senior Allan Newman got a t-shirt as a 500-mile runner.

Coach gives instructions

RTHS cross country head coach Nick Cole gives instructions at the start of practice.

“He’s come a long way in the last couple years,” Cole said. “He knows it’s his senior year, and it’s his last shot.”

Newman’s brother Josh covered 400 miles.

Cole said he was encouraging the team, especially when they were sheltering in place, to get out and run. For some it might have been the only time they could get out of the house all day.

Cole has a young group of four girls and “nine or 10 boys” and hopes to add to that number.

“We’re really hoping that when we actually start school (I teach at the high school as well) that I can convince more kids to come out, just to keep them active, let them socialize,” Cole said. “Football, volleyball and soccer, they didn’t get canceled. They just got pushed back. This is a great opportunity for them to come out and stay in shape.”

The Eagles graduated a number of seniors last season.

A number of personal records were set.

“We really capitalized last year on a few years of work,” he said. “We were kind of gearing up for this season.”

Scheduling is a work in progress. Cole said he is working with athletic director Travis Flesner to schedule some meets.

Multi-school invitationals are out. Smaller meets are in.

It’s all regulated by the Illinois High School Association. Coaches and ADs are learning the guidelines of what is allowed.

RTHS will hold its first meet Sept. 1 with Hoopeston Area. Its second one will be Sept. 29 against Tuscola and Armstrong Potomac.

“We are hoping to still be able to host those,” Cole said.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com