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The joy of high school track

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  • The joy of high school track

    I did something I haven't done in years last weekend. I went to a run-of-the-mill high school track meet. I faithfully attend the Texas high school state championships every year, which almost feels like going to a world-class meet, and I always try to go to all of the U. of Texas meets here in Austin, but it had been more than a decade since I went to just a plain old, non-championship meet. I went back to my home town, Rockdale, Texas (pop. 5,600) and watched the Rockdale Relays, which I haven't attended since I ran a 4:30.9 in the mile (1600, actually, but I adhere to T&FN's anti-1600 stance) there back in 1986.

    What a joy it was. No steroids, no million-dollar egos ... heck, not even any auto timers or fancy scoreboards. In fact, I had to time everything on my own watch if I wanted to know what caliber performances I was seeing.

    There is something so pure about watching these kids. They're just out there for the joy of participating in athletics. And they really give it their all, just trying to score a few points for the team. One of the grittiest, most bare-knuckled fights to the finish I've ever seen was in a junior varsity race as two kids sprinted like mad at the end of the mile -- just to keep from finishing last!

    I especially enjoyed the boys varsity mile, my old event. The meet record is a 4:29 flat, and I wanted to see if this kid from nearby Elgin could get it, or at least beat my old time. He got close, and I rooted for him the whole way as if he were my own kid. He just missed my old time with a 4:31.0. (Of course, he was probably tired from a brilliant solo 9:35 earlier that morning, nearly 20 seconds faster than I ever ran with tough competition.)

    If you're tired of the scandals and crybabies and prima donnas and haven't been to a HS meet in a while, I highly recommend it. It really refreshed my soul and my love of this sport.
    "Run fast and keep turning left."

  • #2
    Re: The joy of high school track

    Coaching HS track for the last ten years, with my 15' LJ girls and my 36' SP boys, gives me the best of both worlds - I can follow the highest levels of elite track, but I can also see the face of a freshman girl as she caps her new 11' pole, gets the teeniest bend in it as she clears 8', and thinks she's the next coming of Stacy.

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    • #3
      Re: The joy of high school track

      You know, my original plan when I went off to college was to be a track coach. Although I love my current career as a journalist, it's a shame there isn't enough time in the day and our lives to pursue all our passions. The coach of that Elgin kid lives down the street from me here in Austin, and his team won state in class 3A XC last year. I'm jealous -- I still fantasize about being a coach and building champions.
      "Run fast and keep turning left."

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      • #4
        Re: The joy of high school track

        A lot of people on this site would say (and have said) that they would rather die a slow death than watch an 11 second plus 100 meters but you guys are right... there is nothing more entertaining that watching or coaching a high school track meet. There is something terrific about kids trying to win and pr. The most fun I ever had coaching was with a 4'10" tall 9th grade girl high jumper who cleared her height in her first year of competition. Now she is a teacher and coaching jumpers on the same field and still looking up to all of them! A lot of people are missing a lot by overlooking the energy available for free at their local schools.

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        • #5
          Re: The joy of high school track

          My favorite event at a HS dual meeet has always been the 4x4. It is at the end of the meet and most of the runners have already been in 2 or 3 races and are running on pure guts. The relays also sometimes have quarter milers teamed with milers, LJ'ers, etc.

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          • #6
            Re: The joy of high school track

            I was just perusing the official results of the meet, and was amused by the name listed for 3rd in the girls pole vault: E. Zatopek.

            Central Texas has a pretty large population of Czech descendants, so it's actually not too surprising of a name.
            "Run fast and keep turning left."

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            • #7
              Re: The joy of high school track

              Did she vault from a muddy path instead of a runway while wearing heavy army boots and holding her breath until she passed out?

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              • #8
                Re: The joy of high school track

                Given the facilities and equipment conditions under which small-town athletes often must compete ... probably so.

                :-)
                "Run fast and keep turning left."

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                • #9
                  Re: The joy of high school track

                  I'm retiring within the next year, and am in the process of becoming certified as an Indiana State High School Athletic Association Track & Field Official. I am really looking forward to officiating at middle school and high school track meets.

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                  • #10
                    Re: The joy of high school track

                    It's not just T & F that is great. It's high school basketball, football, etc. that is great. I go to all the different sports. Our girls basketball team just played for the state championship last week. They played a much more skilled team from Las Vegas. In Vegas if you want to play a specific sport, you go to the high school that perennially dominates that sport. Well, our team played the 3 times in a row girls state champions. They played even with them most of the game; because of their desire and heart. They wanted it so bad, but ended up losing by 2 baskets. It was like a movie script only they lost. When it was over, we all new who the winners were. When you see guts and heart, you know that high school sports is more then primadonnas and ego's. It was great. Of course, I'm not including all the high school coachs in this praise. Sometimes they are a disgrace to sportmanship of the athletes that play for them. Our kids deserve to be praised, especially when they perform with heart, sportsmanship, and humility. We should celebrate every kid that finishes a race or clears a bar. They are learning greater lessons then running fast and jumping high.

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                    • #11
                      Re: The joy of high school track

                      I have been nothing but a junior high or high school coach in my career. I've had two offers to move to the collegiate level but both times I just couldn't make myself leave the kids. They work so hard and believe in you so much that it becomes very addictive. Every meet we run is scored and the kids are consantly working together to win the meet. It is competition at its purest. Also, compared to world class competetion, obviously, the performances are not very good but many times HS performances are just about as good as collegiate. Moreover, you can go to a meet in almost any state on almost any weekend and see 20+ schools competing in large invitationals. Those are the best because you will see a few schools duke it out for the championship. I would take that over Penn or Drake anyday. Trust me, look in the newspaper, find a large HS meet and watch for a day. You won't be disappointed.

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                      • #12
                        Re: The joy of high school track

                        I was spoiled in CA with all of our big high school invites, and the really good LA Times agate coverage on Sundays (pre-internet world). We had OAL, Arcadia, Mt. Sac, Jenner, Halden Relays (where Jesuit set the DMR in 1986) and others. Getting out of league was tough, then sub-sections, sections and finally state trials. Make it to CA state finals, and you would have achieved a pretty big feat. I was used to seeing a slew of sub-9s at state, and always someone under 4.10 in the 1,600m. Steve Lewis was in my league, so racing him for two years was tough.

                        Nonetheless, with all the fast times, great marks and excellent competition, I too thought it would be boring to watch a meet outside of CA not called Texas Relays or Penn Relays.

                        Then I watched the Drake Relays (2000, 2001)... two years in a row. The 4x1s and 4x4s were not hot, but they were hotly contested. A few kids ran 47-second anchors, and the crowd went nuts. I couldn t help but enjoy the competition, although a 47-second split in CA isn t anything to brag about on a message board... but that was just it: I wasn t in CA, and the folks at Drake really knew their stuff... every kid in every event was excited to represent their team on the track and on the field. Even the Olympic-caliber athletes and collegians took time to take in the excitement the screaming fans generated.

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                        • #13
                          Re: The joy of high school track

                          A 47 sec 400 is fast in any state... even california. costal states tend to think they have the fastest kids.... truth be told, not all mid-american schools post their times. (they should, but they dont) HS track is GREAT! Good luck this spring to all coaches and athletes!

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                          • #14
                            Re: The joy of high school track

                            47-point is a decent split, but I had seen a whole lot of 45-points, 46-points and those 47.0-47.4 types ... even saw Obea Moore run 44.8 on his anchor leg at CA State Finals his senior year. Got spoiled by Hawthorne and Muir and everyone in between.

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                            • #15
                              Re: The joy of high school track

                              >My favorite event at a HS dual meeet has always been the 4x4. It is at the
                              >the end of the meet and most of the runners have already been in 2 or 3 races
                              >and are running on pure guts. The relays also sometimes have quarter milers
                              >teamed with milers, LJ'ers, etc.

                              It IS a great event...but there is never anyone in the stands to watch it, as everyone leaves after the 200.

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