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Virtual track meet gives area athletes a form of competition

Benjamin Bell competes in a virtual track meet at Montgomery Blair High in Silver Spring last weekend. (Mary Halle Bell)

On Saturday afternoon, Benjamin Bell walked on the track at Montgomery Blair High in Silver Spring and pictured the empty stands full of spectators, the open field filled with runners from other schools. Imagining cheers from fans and teammates, the Georgetown Prep sprinter — with his mother tracking his time and little sister recording him on video — took off running down the empty track.

The novel coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended the outdoor track season, wiping out the opportunity for Bell and many other high school athletes to run with their teammates. But last week Bell got a chance to compete again — albeit in a modified setting — after Georgetown Prep received an invitation to participate in a virtual track meet.

Representatives from, a website that tracks results from meets, contacted Episcopal Coach Damian Walsh about conducting a virtual meet. With high school sports shut down, the site wanted to give athletes across the country an opportunity to compete without violating social distancing guidelines.

Walsh created the meet and then spread the word to programs Episcopal would normally compete against, including Potomac School, Georgetown Day and Georgetown Prep.

“We thought about it and talked to the team about it through Zoom,” Georgetown Prep Coach Daniel Rose said. The athletes were initially taken aback by the possibility, Rose said, but quickly grew excited about the chance to compete.

The meet was optional, but Rose reminded his athletes, “This is your opportunity to do something out of nothing.”

Spring sports in the District, Maryland and Virginia have been canceled, and athletes in baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, tennis, golf, gymnastics and outdoor track have suffered. But some track athletes can come close to re-creating their events individually.

While Virtual Meet Series #1 consisted mostly of students from area private schools, it appears students from public schools could compete in similar events, too, despite state governing bodies canceling spring activities.

Clark Ray, executive director of the D.C. State Athletic Association, said he wasn’t aware of any rule prohibiting this type of event — and even if there was one, he said he probably would relax it.

Tom Dolan, associate director of the Virginia High School League, said in an email, “As long as a student is not representing their school these events are like any other club activity and outside the authority of the VHSL.”

At last week’s virtual meet, student-athletes and even coaches could compete in the 200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, mile, two miles, long jump and triple jump.

Participants were responsible for submitting their own results to the app along with videos or pictures from April 29 to Sunday.

“I don’t know how many opportunities we are going to get to do this,” Rose said. “But these guys now got something online that’s official, and you can see them running and jumping.”

While some athletes competed on the street or in their backyard, Bell (who ran the 200 and 400) and fellow Georgetown Prep senior Joshua Brown (400) went to different tracks to capture some kind of moment from a lost season.

“There are so many different thoughts going on in people’s heads, so the chance to have a virtual meet can give them a sense of hope,” Bell said. “… It was a new experience for all the guys on the team, but it was the best way to get competition, even though it’s virtually.”

Walsh plans to host another event this month. He thinks participating in virtual meets can go a long way in letting athletes show their dedication to the sport during uncertain times.

“I don’t know if a kid will be offered a scholarship off their virtual performance,” he said. “But I think coaches can see that kids are still engaged and passionate.”

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