Sorting Out the Input on a Proposal for Track and Field

An athlete like Lauren Gale exercises a whole lot of influence over the outcome of an SMR8.

Nine days ago, I published an article that outlined a proposal for Colorado high school track and field. I concluded that article with a request for input. And I got input. Did I ever get input!

I got input from coaches, and I got--somewhat to my surprise--input from parents. I got input in support of the 800 Meter Sprint Medley Relay (hereafter, SMR8), and I got input at just about every level of opposition to the SMR8 imaginable. 

I got input from small schools, but mostly from large schools. 

In the words that follow, I will attempt to summarize that input and any impacts that input may have had on the direction of my own thinking.

1. The disdain for the SMR8 is, in many quarters, nothing short of intense. I contemplated use of the word "visceral" to describe it, but that distaste for the SMR8 was far more than a simple exercise of passion that was devoid of intellectual input. These coaches definitely had thought out their opposition to the relay. The single most commonly expressed reason for disliking the SMR8? It amounts to a second individual event for the top 400 meter runner. If a school happens to have a Lauren Gale or a Nicole Montgomery (no offense intended to either), that school is pretty much a lock to win the SMR8 as well as the 400. There is a widespread sense, then, that the event is essentially unfair--that no other individual event has a paired relay event like this one.

2. The level of disdain for the SMR8 is, by and large, not driven by a lack of success in the relay. Many of those who spoke to me most fervently of their dislike of the relay have enjoyed considerable success in the relay, including state meet success. I liken this reaction to basketball coaches who loathe the tendency of close games to devolve into free throw shooting contests in the final minutes, but who are willing to employ that very strategy when they see it being their best shot at coming away with a W.

3. I heard from coaches from the 2A and 3A ranks in support of the SMR8, but I heard nothing--pro or con--from the 1A ranks.* I'm not sure exactly what meaning to assign to that. It's difficult for me to believe 1A simply doesn't care about the issue. It could be that 1A coaches aren't much for reading Colorado Track XC in the off season. It could be 1A coaches don't think they have my ear and so don't care to share their thoughts with me. It could be any number of things, but it is likely a combination of things.

4. Although one of my biggest personal reasons for opposition to the relay is the scoring weight it adds to sprinting events, I didn't get much sense from the responses sent my way that many people felt as strongly about that as I do. Maybe I said that well enough in my original article and people felt they didn't need to repeat it back to me for emphasis, or maybe they simply don't see that issue the same way I do.

5. I heard, and mostly from parents who responded, about the elevated risk of injury and abject exhaustion that the possibility of running three 400s in a meet (or six at the state meet) the SMR8 lays on the back of the accomplished 400 runner. 

6. I heard from coaches of larger programs (not necessarily larger schools, but larger programs) in parts of the state where the sub-varsity meet opportunities are very limited of the usefulness of having all the relays we currently have (up to and including the SMR8) to get kids opportunities in meets. 

7. I heard some openness to the idea of replacing the SMR8 with the SMR16, but only as paired with a boys SMR16 and never as an expression of a wish to do away with the 4x800. Note, however, that I did not hear from any 1A coaches which is where I floated the idea of dropping the 4x800 and SMR8 and replacing with an SMR16 for both genders.

8. One coach noted to me that the outcome of an SMR16 is probably even more determined by a dominant 800 type than the outcome of an SMR8 is determined by a dominant 400 type. While I agree with that observation, my dismay over that state of affairs is tempered by the facts that a) at least it's not another event determined by a sprinter, b) at least in theory, the SMR16 should be a much more competitive relay for most 1A schools than the 4x800, and c) the SMR16 gives us a little bit of reciprocity with adjoining states that the SMR8 never does. To be sure, there have been some pretty remarkable 1A 4x800s at state the last few years, but I am also fairly certain we have witnessed kids running a competitive 800 for the very first time in not a few 1A 4x800 state meet efforts. 

Of all the comments received and read, the observation that had the greatest influence on my own thinking about the SMR8 was the one about the relay providing four additional meet opportunities for girls in programs where geography and/or funding preclude scheduling much, if anything, in the way of sub-varsity meets.

I don't want to be the coach who has to tell kids, "Nope, we can't get you in this weekend or next, better luck the week after. Maybe one of our regulars will be hurt then." And, I get it that geography and a dearth of funding for the track and field program can create that very situation. If you have kids out for track, you need to find events for them. Period.

It also occurs to me, however, that that situation can be managed in ways other than having an SMR8 at every meet, up to and including the state meet. Here's a short list of means of addressing that situation without a girls-only medley relay event:

1. Meet hosts can exercise greater sensitivity to needs of said schools. How about taking extra relays from teams up to the point where an additional heat would be required? Second relays from a school could either be scored or treated as exhibition entries for scoring purposes as the needs of the meet dictate.

2. Meet hosts might also allow, as many Western Slope meets already do, extra entries in individual events, typically designating those extra entries as exhibition (non-scoring) performances. I cannot speak with clarity to the question of whether or not these meets charge an additional fee for accommodating larger programs in this fashion. I would guess they do, but I don't know that. In any case, the extra expense for those entries would be trivial next to the expense of taking a busload of kids to a JV meet 90 minutes away.

3. Meets could run JV heats of certain relays. A few meets in Colorado (mostly in the northeastern quadrant of the state) already do this. I'm pretty sure there would never be a need to run anything more, at least in terms of relays, than a JV 4x100 and a JV 4x400. 

4. Run the SMR8 (or SMR16), for both boys and girls (it's also sometimes difficult to find meet slots for all the boys on your team) at meets all season long as desired by the meet directors and participating schools but leave the event out of the state meet. 

Once again, your input is welcome--either as an email sent to me or as a comment in the comments sections below. We are not yet at a consensus, but I remain hopeful that we can approach a consensus if we keep talking to one another. As a reminder, comments posted below do not appear on Facebook, but you will get Facebook notifications when someone responds to your comment. And, you must have a Facebook account to participate in the discussion below. I didn't make those rules, I just play by them. :-)

* - A slight correction here, Tyler Haughness of Shining Mountain Waldorf did respond in the comments of the original article. My apologies for the oversight there.