Track Season Cancelled? Welcome to the EHS Virtual Meet

In mid-March, EHS track & field coach Damian Walsh was preparing to take seven runners to the national high school indoor track and field championships. The group — which included high-fliers eager to prove themselves on a national stage — was to run on the historic and fast Armory Track in New York City.

Yet the day before the first race, with New York emerging as the country’s Covid-19 epicenter, the meet was cancelled. Later, with Washington-area schools moved to distance learning, the outdoor track season was also called off.

Walsh, however, soon helped create something good out of these crushing disappointments. With, a track and cross country website, he became one of a handful of coaches nationwide to pioneer “virtual meets” — competitions in which high schoolers run their events solo at different tracks, timed and videotaped by friends or family, with winners declared after tapes are reviewed and times verified. Walsh organized his first meet in early May, attracting some 60 runners, including many from Episcopal’s Washington-area opponents.

Walsh’s work attracted media attention and, with other similar meets, spurred the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation to create a virtual national championship for high school track athletes, now scheduled for July.

The meets also are offering a way for track athletes to stand out in the college recruiting process, even when their season has been cancelled. “I’ve heard from college coaches, and they’re saying, ‘We’re not going to give out scholarships based on virtual meet times, but if we see a kid who loves the sport so much that they’re staying engaged and working hard, they’re going to move up our recruiting radar.’ ” contacted Walsh to help test the virtual meet because Episcopal routinely hosts track events each winter and spring. Walsh put the word out among area schools, including Potomac and Georgetown Day. 

Demetri Kearns ’22 jumped at the chance to run in the meet. Since returning home from school, he had continued training and wanted to try out distances beyond his usual 200-meter sprint. “I was excited I could pick my own races to run,” he says.

Demetri’s dad, the Rev. George Kearns, works as chaplain at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, on the North Carolina coast, and the two met at lunch one day at the base track. Demetri ran with a distance-measuring watch, and George filmed the videotape required of entries. In his 200-meter run, he posted a time of 22.74, more than three seconds faster than his personal best and good enough to tie for first place in the event. And in the biggest surprise, he ran the 800 in 2:12.1, clipping about eight seconds off his previous best.

The times impressed Walsh, who says he may need to rethink the races Demetri runs. “We probably need to think about him in the 800.”