The Track & Field Razzie Awards go to...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Another track season is almost here, presenting another opportunity to climb on my soapbox and vent some of my grievances with the track and field community.

My peers and colleagues are accustomed to my annual rants, so why not inflict them on my loyal readers? In no particular order, I present the following awards:

The "Get A Calendar" award goes to the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) for the length and timing of the track and field season.

The competitive track season in Missouri begins in the third week of March. Athletes are required to have 15 practices completed before participating in a MSHSAA-recognized meet.

Weather is a serious concern for the earliest competitions. I have spent many March evenings in southwest Missouri stadiums watching hot chocolate freeze into a popsicle while trying to coax athletes into shedding their warm-ups and participating.

My youngest son, Daniel, set a Southwest school record and broke the Cassville meet record in the 3,200 meters in arctic conditions back in 2004. Two months later, he earned an All-State medal in the same event in 100-degree temps in Jefferson City. The temperature differential for those two races was 70 degrees. Welcome to Missouri.

The "Title IX" award goes to the meet directors who thoughtfully throw the girls under the bus for the 3,200-meter relay and 3,200-meter run at their invitational.

Girls can run too, and they deserve the opportunity to enjoy the limelight when they compete. Too many meet directors try to conserve time by combining the 3,200-meter runs and relays. "Just run them together" is a common response from an official or meet director when the time comes to heat those longer events in the bullpen.

The result of lumping all runners regardless of gender into one race almost always produces a negative outcome for the girls involved. Rare is the girl who can hang with even the mid-pack boys, much less the leaders. Unless the girls have exceptional pace recognition abilities, they usually get caught up in the opening dash for position, and forget all about their carefully planned race strategy.

I have coached some excellent girls distance runners over the years, and none of them ever ran a personal best while competing against boys. Never.

Girls also deserve the opportunity to enjoy the limelight when they compete. The winner of the girls 3,200 should have her victory celebrated as she breaks the tape, instead of being an afterthought in the boys' race where she may very well have been lapped by the overall winner.

Meet directors, should do a better job of maintaining the meet schedule instead of trying to make up a half hour at the end by "double gendering" the 3,200 Because if that is acceptable, then maybe we should be packing girls and boys together in ALL events so we can be home earlier.

The "What Should I Wear?" award goes to MSHSAA and its confusing and archaic uniform rules.

Runners run, and the best runners know that the added weight of unnecessary garments can cost them precious time on the track. Track uniforms are skimpy by design but not lewd or overly revealing.

Most uniform violations occur because of additional items that athletes wear or are adorned with during competition. The style, color and number of logos of additional undergarments -- see rant about cold weather - are all spelled out in the MSHSAA handbook in a way that any theoretical nuclear physicist can understand.

"Bun-hugger" shorts - those high cut elastic shorts favored by elite hurdlers - were finally approved for use in Missouri a few years ago, but you rarely see them in meets for fear of reprisal from overly prudish parents and school board members. As Dean Hays, the longtime coach at Hardin-Central, stated, "When I studied for my master's degree in education, they taught us there are 10 things a tenured teacher can be fired for. I think number 11 would be letting your girls wear bun-hugger shorts."

Hair containment devices must also meet code. I quote from the MSHSAA Track and Field manual:

"5. Jewelry is prohibited from being worn in competition, and this includes various items worn in the hair."

But then we get this immediately following:

"6. Items such as rubber bands, cloth headbands or scrunchies may be approved by the games committee to control the hair and are not considered jewelry."

Followed by

"7. The state association may develop an across the board policy or interpretation on what is considered jewelry and prohibited and what would be acceptable for hair control.

8. Unadorned devices, such as bobby pins, barrettes and hair clips, no longer than two inches, may be worn to control the competitor's hair.

a. Do not require action by the games committee to be worn and are legal.

b. These items, when legal, are not considered jewelry."

Huh?

Watches are strangely unregulated though. A bobby pin can get a runner disqualified for presenting a safety hazard, but a kid can wear a big, clunky Fossil wristwatch and draw blood from his competitors with it with no worries of disqualification.

From the fairness viewpoint, a runner with a Garmin GPS watch carries enough computer technology on his wrist to operate a small airplane. Its repertoire of pacing tools and audible signals help gain an advantage over other technology-poor runners. But none of this is addressed in the uniform rules.

Finally, the "Less Is Better" award goes to MSHSAA for the number of meets allowed in a high school track season.

High school teams are allowed to compete in 13 regular season meets. An athlete who qualifies for the state meet will also compete in districts and sectionals and will finish the season with a total of 16 meets.

In my opinion, that is about twice as many as necessary for kids who are still growing and developing. The American high school track and field system is seriously flawed in the balance between training and competition. Too many of our young athletes are undertrained and risk injury when they attempt to compete at a high level that often in a two-month timeframe.

The better coaches recognize that, and while their team may be entered in the maximum allowable number of meets, they protect individual athletes by only allowing them to race on a limited schedule. Joe Bill Dixon, the National Hall of Fame coach from West Plains, seemed to be ahead of the curve when it came to limiting his elite athletes while preparing them to peak when it counted the most.

Audrey Patton, of Purdy, set a school 3,200-meter record and improved her career-best time by 40 seconds her senior year with maximum training and a light racing schedule.

A lot depends on the focus of your program. If your school and team is more about the positive social aspects of participation and your athletes are not in the elite category, then a meet may not be any more damaging than a workout. But any time an athlete is placed in a competitive situation, the opportunity for maximum effort -- and maximum exposure to injury -- exists. It is better to be over prepared for that moment than undertrained.

If it seems like I am picking on MSHSAA, it's because I am. But to be fair, the good people at MSHSAA do a great overall job administering the sport of track and field for our Missouri athletes. It's those little nitpick items that drive old coaches crazy.

See you at the meets.

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