Local orienteering league sends kids running in the woods

KENMORE — It’s a wet Saturday morning at Saint Edward State Park, and the steady fall of rain has soggy the ground that walking on the grass produces a rooster’s tail.

Still, the nasty conditions didn’t deter the nearly 200 elementary, middle and high school students who spent part of their weekend galloping through the woods, trying to locate the boxes faster than the others.

This is the Washington Interscholastic Orienteering League, a league of individuals and schools that match their racing spirit and abilities in competitive orienteering. The sport, which is both a cross-country race and a scavenger hunt, is a mystery to most. But it is one that is highly valued by those who participate.

“I think it’s really fun,” said Kamiak High School junior Audrey Javadoff, who is one of the league’s top competitors. “You really feel a sense of accomplishment. People don’t even know it exists, but you’re browsing on your phone all the time. It’s doing it like a real sport.

The WIOL, organized by the Cascade Orienteering Club, takes place between November and February. It includes schools from all over the Puget Sound area, and this season the WIOL is hosting events in locations as far north as Langley and as far south as Spanaway. Participating Snohomish County high schools include Kamiak, Everett, Arlington and a combined team from Marysville.

Competitors hold their maps as they await the start of an orienteering race hosted by the Washington Interscholastic Orienteering League December 2 at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

So what exactly is orienteering? He uses a map and a compass to navigate through difficult terrain, completing multiple checkpoints in a specific order. The individual who is able to complete the course the fastest is the winner.

“It’s land navigation,” explained Chief Petty Officer Carl Arbogast, who trains Everett’s team through the Navy’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. “The maps themselves will not only show you where things are, but when you look at the maps they will also identify what the topography looks like – whether there is an increase or decrease in elevation, points of interest or other landmarks, whether it is a heavily wooded area or a flat grassy area. All of this information is identified and is part of the skill. They must find a way to get from here to there efficiently, and that may mean not taking the most direct route up that cliff or across that lake.

Competitors bring their own compasses and are given a device for their finger so they can check in upon reaching each checkpoint. They are not allowed to see the map until they start the lesson, so the main skill is being able to orient themselves and interpret the map.

And since time is a factor, the ability to run long distances quickly – the St. Edward Park varsity course was 3.4 miles as the crow flies, meaning competitors were more likely to run around 5 kilometers – is also important.

“It’s definitely not for the feint of heart, that’s for sure,” Everett team commander Cody Tyler said. “As you can see, it’s raining, you’re in the woods, it’s muddy and there are rotten logs. You have to be in good shape, you have to know what you’re doing because you could easily get lost there. You just need to be athletic and know how to manage on a map.

Javadoff is one of the best. After three events, she leads the standings in the Varsity Girls division. That makes sense for someone who has been in the sport for seven years, has placed in national events, and is a member of their high school cross-country team.

Competitors wait for the start of an orienteering race organized by the Washington Interscholastic Orienteering League December 2 at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore.  (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Competitors wait for the start of an orienteering race organized by the Washington Interscholastic Orienteering League December 2 at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

“Every minute you’re making a decision, basically,” said Javadoff, who finished fourth in his division at St. Edward State Park, the league’s third event of the season. “Every time you look at the map, there are so many different trails that you just have to look and make quick decisions, to calculate how far this trail or route is going to take you, or how long it will take in less compared to another route.I think every trail is a decision to be made.

“I’m successful maybe 80% of the time,” added Javadoff. “I think now I’m pretty good at it. Sometimes the routes are very similar, so I go for it. You do not have the time. Once you start sitting there trying to make a decision, you’re wasting time. Sometimes you just have to go. »

Javadoff is the de facto leader of Kamiak’s team, which is not run by the school. Fellow Knight Zane Robertson is the top local contender in the Varsity Boys division, placing 12th. Because Javadoff and Robertson are Kamiak’s only regular competitors participating, the Knights are not a factor in tag team competitions.

Everett, who plays in the Jr. Varsity Boys North division, currently sits third in the team standings. Tyler Sweeney is Everett’s top individual, placing sixth, while Minhyok Kim won the season opener Nov. 4 at Seattle’s Magnuson Park.

Arlington is fourth in the Jr. Varsity Girls team standings, led by Hallie Williams who is 10th in the individual standings. Marysville is sixth in the Junior Varsity Boys North team, led by Brendan Bullock in seventh and seventh in the Junior Varsity Girls team, paced by Emma Burkett in 12th.

“It’s a good healthy outdoor activity, but it’s also a useful and fun skill,” Arbogast said. “The kids who take part in this, they go out on their own on Saturdays and run around in the woods for an hour or an hour and a half with a compass and a map. They come back soaked, exhausted, with red cheeks, covered in mud, sometimes bleeding a little, but smiling from ear to ear because it amuses them.

If you have an idea for a community sports story, email Nick Patterson at [email protected]

Dino J. Dotson