Some ideas to improve the sport

As the high school track & field season is winding down in Texas, I’ve thought of a few ideas that might make it more interesting, more watchable, and more popular.

  • Shorten the length of meets. This is a killer for a lot of people. Imagine you’re the parent. If you have no preference either way, would you want to spend all day at a meet waiting for a few moments of your child’s competition? Or would you prefer they chose to be at a 2-hour baseball/softball game or maybe a 90-minute soccer game? Why do meet have to be so long? What is the point of having a 20-team meet on a Thursday or Friday night so that kids (and parents) are up so late? The Houston area coaches have a great system with JV meets usually on Thursday and varsity meets on Friday or Saturday. There are no endless heats of JV and varsity races in one long, long meet.
  • Don’t host every event every week. Another way to shorten meets is to simply don’t host every event. Why not race the 100 one week and the 200 the next week? Why not split the 1600 and the 3200? How about one short relay and one longer relay? What’s wrong with alternating long jump and triple jump or shot put and discus?
  • Stop athletes from doubling each week. That brings me to another thing that would greatly improve the sport. How about if coaches stop throwing kids in multiple events each week. It drives me crazy to see athletes doubling in the distance races each week. I understand when the championships meets come around, but having kids double each week is nuts. World class athletes don’t do it. College athletes don’t do it. The best high school athletes don’t do it. So if it’s unwise for these older, mature, and highly trained athletes, why do so many high school coaches at every level think that it’s okay for high school kids to do it every week? If you want to run kids off, kill the fun of the sport.
  • Use field event performance boards. Keep people interested at field events. How hard can it be to have even the simplest of performance board at a field event letting people know a distance or height? Even a white board written in dry erase marker is better than nothing. I’ve been to lots of meet where the official measuring distances doesn’t even announce what they just measured.
  • Show field event standings. I remember watching east Texas pole vault Carl Erikson over 20 years ago as he kept up with every miss and make of pole vault competitions. Sitting with Carl allowed me to know where every competitor stood at every moment. Almost no one has any idea who is in what position as competitions progress. How about a large whiteboard at a field event venue that at least shows the position of the top 6 or 8 along with their marks. One student can update the standings after each jump/throw, if necessary.
  • Have athletes keep up with field events progressions.  I remember watching east Texas pole vault Carl Erikson over 20 years ago as he kept up with every miss and make of pole vault competitions. Sitting with Carl allowed me to know where every competitor stood at every moment and it allowed me to see the real drama of competition unfold just as clearly as if I was watching a 1600 race. I started having athletes keep up with every field event competition as it went along at our meets. For instance, a distance runner might be watching the long jump competition and recording the distances of each competitor. As I was the only coach on the staff, it was a huge help as I moved from event to event and could immediately know how my athletes stood. Even more useful was that the athletes who were keeping up with the event became deeply involved in the competition. They were able to see the drama that occurred in each round, with each jump, as athletes moved up or down in standing. Quickly more of my athletes wanted to keep up with field events to the point that I had more volunteers than needed and I began to use them in teams of 2 or 3 at each venue to satisfy everyone’s deserve to “work” at a field event. (This was at small 2A school with a building program, not a large 5A team with lots of athletes.) Soon we had a host of teammates at each venue cheering for our team’s competitors. I was also able to train them in what to look for (such as long jumpers being over or short of the board) and let the athlete know how much to adjust their approach.

These are just a few ideas that I think would make the sport a little better for all. Please let me know your ideas through your comments.

Columbus HS Relay DQ – Do You Really Know What Happened?

The story of the Columbus High School 4×100 relay that won the regional final but was subsequently disqualified because the anchor leg raised his hand at the end of the race has gained an awful lot of attention in the past week.

Even Governor Rick Perry got involved by sending a letter to the UIL asking them to review the disqualification after hearing the athletes’ father say that his son was gesturing to God.

This gesture was reported widely and the official has been criticized over and over by multitudes of (mostly anonymous) people deriding his decision to disqualify the team based on what has been reported as a religious gesture.

I wonder how many those who feel compelled to weigh in and write harsh and brutal condemnations of the official were actually there? Apparently none of them.

The UIL investigated the incident and released this statement at noon today:

An incident involving the disqualification of the Columbus High School 4X100 meter relay team at the Region IV Conference 3A regional track meet occurred on April 27, 2013. The UIL was made aware of this issue on May 2 after media reports of the disqualification began airing on May 1.  Once becoming aware of the incident, the UIL immediately began investigating the matter thoroughly.

Over the course of the investigation, the UIL interviewed several eyewitnesses and reviewed video of the race. Additionally, the UIL spoke to the involved parties.  The UIL has concluded the investigation and has found no evidence to suggest that the disqualification took place as a result of the student-athlete expressing religious beliefs.  The basis for the disqualification was due to the student-athlete behaving disrespectfully, in the opinion of the local meet referee.

Based on the UIL’s investigation, the student athlete raised his hand and gestured forward at the conclusion of the 4×100-meter relay. The meet official approached the student-athlete in an effort to warn him of a possible disqualification should that behavior continue. In the opinion of the official, the student reacted disrespectfully. Based on his reaction, the student-athlete was subsequently disqualified. Any decision to disqualify a student-athlete at any track meet must be upheld by the head meet referee. The meet official and the meet referee conferred, and the disqualification was upheld on-site. At no point during the discussions surrounding the disqualification at the meet was the issue of religious expression raised by any parties.

The UIL’s investigation also revealed that all coaches involved were notified prior to the regional meet that any gestures in violation of the NFHS track and field rule against unsporting behavior would be grounds for disqualification. Coaches were instructed to discuss this with their student-athletes prior to all races.

To assist the UIL in its investigation, the student-athlete’s parents submitted a letter stating that their son’s religious freedoms were not violated. “In looking back at the conclusion of the 4×100 race, we realize that Derrick could have handled the win in a different manner,” KC and Stacey Hayes said in the letter. “It was not our intention to force the issue that our son’s religious freedom was violated. Nor do we feel that way now. After discussing this with our son, we have come to the conclusion that his religious rights were not violated.”

The student-athlete who was disqualified also submitted a letter during the investigation stating: “Although I am very thankful for all God has given me and blessed me with, on Saturday, April 27, 2013 at the Regional Track Meet in Kingsville, TX, my actions upon winning the 4×100 relay were strictly the thrill of victory. With this being said, I do not feel my religious rights or freedoms were violated.”

The UIL is committed to protecting student-athletes’ and their rights and takes matters such as these seriously. In order to reduce the amount of interpretation on the part of track officials in regards to unsporting behavior, the UIL will work with NFHS for a clearer definition of the unsporting behavior rule.

It’s interesting how venomous are the comments I’ve read from literally hundreds of people who simply believe what they’ve heard without knowing all the facts. This was not an attack on an athlete’s religious beliefs.

It was a disqualification because he made multiple behaviors that could results in a DQ. I’m one of a handful of regional meet referees in Texas and, based on what the UIL reported, I’d make the same decision. Had I seen him gesturing to heaven as was reported, I would not have done anything and I bet most, if not all, referees would not act as that would not be disrespectful or taunting. But if he showed disrespect to an official as the investigation found then the DQ was justified.

This is one more example of people coming to a conclusion despite being ignorant of the facts.

Louisiana Tech Hires Calvin Robinson

Louisiana Tech is not only signing a lot of Texas athletes, they just signed one of our best coaches! Though he’s most recently been coaching at the University of Miami, Calvin Robinson has a long resume of success in Texas, too.

I got to know Calvin during his tenure at Sam Houston State and was immensely impressed with him as a coach and as a person. While I wish he was back in Texas, I’m glad he is working a lot closer now, and am certain that he is going to be a huge asset to the La Tech program.

Robinson joins Louisiana Tech after spending a little over four years as an associate head coach at Miami where he guided a high jumper to the 2012 London Olympics.

“I am very excited to be a part of Louisiana Tech track and field Family, I cannot thank Coach Stanley and Bruce Van De Velde enough for this opportunity,” said Robinson. “Louisiana Tech is a program with great history and tradition and I look forward to adding a few pages to that during my time here.”

Prior to his time at Miami (Fla.), Robinson spent four years as an assistant coach at UTEP where he sent a women’s long jumper and men’s high jumper to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, was named the 2008 U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Mountain Region Women’s Assistant Coach of the Year and coached the 2008 national champion in the men’s high jump.

Robinson was also an assistant coach at Sam Houston State from 2000-04 where he coached the school’s first All-American in track and field.

In all, Robinson brings a resume that boasts 20 All-Americans and 52 various all-conference honors .

He is a 2000 graduate of Sam Houston State with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in kinesiology and earned his Master’s of Arts degree in Kinesiology from Sam Houston State in 2004.

Bev Kearney Steps Down at UT

Bev Kearney

After being placed on leave in November, the Austin American-Statesman reported today that Bev Kearney is stepping down as Texas’ womens’ head coach yesterday. (Click here for the American Statesman‘s interview.)

Kearney’s legacy at Texas will be long remembered including six NCAA national championships. Assistant Rose Brimmer will serve as interim head coach until a replacement is selected.

I heard a lot of stories about Coach Kearney during her tenure at UT and met her years ago, but never really know her well. My favorite memory of her was years ago as the sun set at a meet in College Station when I found myself starting to shiver as the chilly evening air descended upon the stadium. I looked around and there was Bev standing next to me with her arms crossed and almost shaking. We laughed and joked about how we should have been smarted than to go to a track meet without even bringing a jacket. We stood there and chatted for awhile longer before she had to go off to be a coach again. I remember thinking how she seemed so much more relaxed and personable when she seemed to be letting her guard down a bit.

Surprise Celebration Honoring Clyde Hart’s 50 Years at Baylor

Clyde Hart

Friday night Coach Clyde Hart was honored with a surprise dinner in his honor celebrating an incredible 50 years coaching track & field at Baylor University.

A Baylor grad, Hart returned to the Waco in 1963 to coach and never looked back, though he did step back a little 8 years ago to hand the reigns as head coach over to assistant and former athlete Todd Harbour. Hart continues as Director of Track and Field and coaches the 400m and 4×400 relay athletes.

Anyone who knows anything about the sport knows the dominance Coach Hart’s athletes in those two events — not only at the NCAA level, but on the world stage. His athletes include Olympic and World Champions such as Michael Johnson, Jeremy Wariner, and Sanya Richards-Ross.

While I certainly don’t know Coach Hart well, Coach Harbour introduced us several years ago and I was honored to spend some time chatting about track & field with him. It was obvious on that afternoon and every time I’ve seen him since that his reputation as being a great person as well as a great coach is certainly deserved.

For more on the event and Coach Hart’s continuing legacy at Baylor, read Jerry Hills great article.

Top 10 Reasons I Loved the UTSA Ricrdo Romo Classic

Traveling is fun, but a 5-hour drive home on a Sunday after a far away meet through steady rain most of the way definitely put me behind on my work with, but it was a great weekend and I am so glad that I went.

Here’s my top 10 reason why it was a great weekend:

# 10. Being able to park really close to the start/finish line. (Thanks, Scott!)

# 9.The sheer number of races in one meet. Besides, the college divisions on Friday evening, there were fourteen races on Saturday. At UTSA each UIL classification gets its own race plus an elite “Gold” division.

# 8. The “levee”-like mound along the start for about 600m (and only about 200m from the finish straight provided an great place to watch everything. Bring along a chair and some binoculars and becomes the perfect place to relax and enjoy the meet. (I was surprised more people didn’t take advantage of it.)

# 7. The narrow, crowd lined finish seemed a big hit with the athletes as they ran a very long way with the parents and parents cheering them on.

# 6. The great weather throughout most of the day — cool with a light wind and thin clouds that kept the sun away until the last couple of hours.

# 5. Watching Leander Rouse’s Madie Boreman’s huge 42-second win in the 4A girls race. What made it really spectacular is that she is only a freshman!

# 4. The great Gold Girls race in which San Benito’s Brenda Lopez held off Devin Clark of Smithson Valley by a step at the end in a fiercely fought battle.

# 3. Visiting with the UTSA head coach Aaron Fox and former coach James Blackwood and finally meeting UTSA cross country coach Scott Slade.

# 2. Seeing so many old friends who I hadn’t seen in a long, long time. I miss hanging out with you guys — easily some of the finest coaches in the world and the best people, too.

# 1. The mud! I spent at least an hour at the mud bog watching athletes slip and slide through one of the deepest, thickest, stickiest mudpile that I have ever seen in a race. Untold shoes were lost in stuff that seemed infused with superglue. Countless times I saw shoes buried deep coming off and requiring strong 2-handed tugs from athletes seeking to retrieve them.

I’m already looking forward to next year, but right now I’m making plans for my next big trip to David Harrison’s Lubbock Invitational in two weeks.

Politics and the Death of Americans Overseas

I really did not want to discuss politics into this blog largely because it seems that most people on all sides are not really interested in facts or honest, fair debate.

This morning’s events, though, have angered me so much that I feel obligated as a human being to share my thoughts.

Chris Stevens, United States Ambassador to Libya

After watching CNN’s coverage of the storming of US embassies in Egypt and Libya and the assassination of the American Ambassador to Libya and three other early this morning, I switched over to see how Fox News was covering these events. My jaw dropped as I watched the Fox and Friends show spend almost the entire last 30 minutes of their show using the deaths of these Americans to promote a political agenda.

Much of their coverage was centered on the U.S. Egyptian embassy’s statement that they, as did Mitt Romney last night and again this morning, were apologizing for freedom of speech in the U.S.

Perhaps they did read the full statement on the air issued by the embassy (CNN has done so several times this morning), but I didn’t hear it in the last 30 minutes of the Fox show — only repeated criticisms of it in terms of apologizing for free speech.

Here is the full text of the statement:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

While I tend to agree with many critics that a condemnation of the embassy attacks should have been made first, I do believe not one of those critics have spoken to anyone in the embassy, much less the person who released it. The statement was made while the attacks were occurring or immediately after. If your life and the lives of your co-workers are being threatened by a mob attacking you, wouldn’t a statement saying you agree with their condemnation of the filmmaker whose video started it all make sense to possible save lives? The people in the embassy did not know what else was in store and a statement like this might pacify many in the crowd. Remember how quickly social media works in Egypt.

I think all of the people whose knee jerk reactions to the events in north Africa are speaking from a position of great ignorance of what really happened in their attempts to promote their politics.

After reading the embassy statement, I see absolutely nothing apologetic in it. Nothing. I see a condemnation of those who abuse freedom of speech, not freedom of speech itself. Do critics, including Mitt Romney, disagree with the statement that “respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy”? Do they support the “the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others”?

This morning, Gov. Romney stood by his statement last night that when he said “”It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

In reading the embassy’s statement, do you see it as sympathizing with freedom of religion or sympathizing with the attackers? I imagine many folks will interpret the statement in the way that fits what they want to believe and use it for political gain as Gov. Romney clearly did last night and again this morning.

Politics have been brutal coming from all sides this year. Like many, I have become a bit numb to all the useless, wasted, and often dishonest words that come from just about everyone on every side.

But what really upset me this morning was the blatant, deliberate attempt by Fox News and then by Gov. Romney to use the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others for politics.

Come one, people. Good people died yesterday doing real work in a dangerous place that needs our help. Good people work in a dangerous and challenging place in Egypt as well. Can the partisan politics not wait a few days, especially when none of us even know who actually killed Ambassador Stevens and the others? (One Fox host this morning already believes he knows, but, oddly enough, he didn’t give specifics.)

Attacks on the American embassies and the killing of Americans overseas go way beyond petty politics and using those deaths to gain votes is, to me, truly…well, I can’t think of a word strong enough to express my feelings.

Aries Merritt shatters 110 hurdle world record

Aries Merritt, who lives in Bryan and trains under Texas A&M coach Vince Anderson, shattered the existing world record in the men’s 110-meter hurdles by .07 seconds at the Brussels Diamond League meet today, which also secured the season Diamond Race for the reigning gold medalist.

Merritt dominated a loaded field in a time of 12.80 to better Cuba’s Dayron Robles previous world record of 12.87 ran in 2008. It was the biggest drop in the world record since Renaldo Nehemiah dropped .28 seconds off the mark from 13.21 to 12.93 in 1981.

Check out the BBC’s broadcast of the race. It is pretty remarkable.

The performance comes in the midst of a brilliant season for Merritt that has included the Olympic gold medal and a World Indoor 60m title. Merritt owns the top seven times in the world this year and has run under 13 seconds a total of eight times. The time also bettered David Oliver’s American record of 12.89 set in 2010.

Americans also picked up a top two finish from reigning Olympic silver medalist Jason Richardson (Cedar Hill HS grad), who placed second in the men’s 110m hurdles in 13.05.