Off and running: Cross-country takes off, but travel limited by pandemic

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

The Fort Frances High School Muskies are running this year’s cross-country season after missing out due to the pandemic. However, the usual Northern Ontario championships and provincials have been cancelled, limiting the Muskies to local competition.

Muskies coach John Dutton says he’s happy to have students running cross-country again after the program was shut down with schools closed by COVID-19 pandemic. Dutton says there are around 20 runners with the group this year, including runners from grade 7 through 12.

“I think COVID might have created a few more couch potatoes than we had before,” Dutton said. “It’s going to take a bit to get them off the couch and back on the field.”

Dutton is optimistic knowing that other sports at the school have had good numbers for tryouts that cross-country will bounce back.

Further COVID casualties this year are the NWOSSAA cross-country regional competition and the OFSAA provincial championships.

“This is an odd year for us, as it is for all the sports,” Dutton said. “We’re not able to move beyond our region here. Normally instead of having our home race next week we would have been at NWOSSAA but they have basically shut out everybody from their region. They don’t want to mix different school boards. So they’re doing their thing and we’re doing our thing and none of us are getting an opportunity to go to OFSAA this year, which may or may not run.”

In an effort to grow the program, Dutton says they started getting runners from grades 8 and 8 involved several years ago in hopes of keeping them interested once they get to high school.

“One thing we started doing about six or seven years ago was recruiting [grades] 7s and 8s to run with us,” Dutton said. “Once the 7s and 8s came into high school that made it that much easier, but it also gave them an alternative for choosing a high school sport, when they came to the high school and they already had a couple of years of experience doing some more rigorous training.”

The team trains five days a week, Mon-Thu. and Saturday mornings and Dutton says runners are enthusiastic including arriving for 8:00 a.m. training on Saturdays no matter the weather, even when they have to come from Emo.

Dutton says that running cross-country also helps student-athletes be ready for the other sports throughout the school year.

“I have a fair number of hockey players on the team,” Dutton said. “One grade 9 girl is running with me for the first time this year and she said it’s made such a difference in how she feels on the ice. It certainly is a support for cardiovascular fitness and just general fitness getting them ready for other sports.”

Dutton added that he also facilitates a running club during the winter to help prepare students for the spring track and field season, but he also knows he’ll end up losing some of the students in the running club to soccer which also requires a high fitness level.

“Some of my best athletes, all I’m doing is preparing them for soccer, right?” Dutton said. “ I don’t get them out for track because they make soccer, and they make soccer because they’ve been training for two months longer than the other soccer players have. But it’s ok, if they’re playing a sport, I’m happy.”

Last Thursday the team ran a time trial for an upcoming local meet at a new course at Bear Pass.

This Wednesday the Muskies will host other nearby Northwest region schools in a meet at Bear Pass. Schools from Fort Frances, Kenora, Dryden, Atikokan, and Red Lake are all likely to be in attendance at the meet, starting at 1:00 p.m. at the Bear Pass fire hall.

Time trial highlights

Cross Country coach John Dutton says several of his runners stood out to him. Dutton’s highlights were as follows:

Junior: Grades 9-10 – 4km


1st place Payton Dolyny 18:50

2nd place Miranda Wilson 19:57

3rd place Marissa Kenny 20:33


Rex Tolton 17:52

Senior: Grades 11-12 – 6km


1st place Leah Seguin 26:26

2nd place Chloe Dolyny 26:52


1st place Trent Wilson 21:49

3rd place Corbin Riches 25:50

Grades 7-8 boys- 3 km:

Parker Sisco 12:42