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Wednesday, 17 June 2009 18:09    PDF Print E-mail

Mark Reedy of Hammond shares his views on needed changes for our sport
Published: 01/17/2008
Mark Reedy is the coach at Hammond High School. He can be seen not only at high school track meets, but at college meets and open meets during the week. He is a true track "fan". In this opinion piece, Mark expresses some changes that he feels needs to come to our sport to survive and grow.

I love high school track and field. It’s a part of me. For 35 years I’ve found greatness, beauty, courage, grace, and the ultimate truth on the track, runways, and throwing circles of high schools around the country. The athletes have done their best to uphold the honor of the sport.

Unfortunately, there are many adults involved in coaching, administration, and officiating   of high school track that through there own short sightedness are killing the sport that many of us love.

Track is a simple sport: run faster, throw further, jump higher. The watch and measuring tape are the ultimate truth. Hard work pays off, no matter who you are. It’s a beautiful thing.

I consider many coaches, administrators, and officials my friends. We share the love of track. But as I watch unprepared teams, running in the fast heats of interminably long meets, with condescending officials, I start to lose hope for the future.

Unqualified Coaches….
I consider it a privilege to coach. A trust. The good coaches that I know competed for good coaches that changed their lives for the best. These good coaches want to pass this legacy on to their teams.

The problem is that we work within a bureaucracy.

The system is set up so that teachers get preference in coaching jobs. Most are good. Some are great. Lots are not. There are a large number of track coaches that are there for the money. I’ve seen excellent coaches that are not teachers, displaced for a teacher that wants the job for no other reason than their own selfish interest. Athletic directors with no experience or interest in track seem to think that anybody can coach track. “All you do is run. Anybody can run.” They certainly wouldn’t consider inexperienced coaches to lead a football, basketball or soccer team. Unfortunately, a different standard seems to apply to track.

Solution: It’s the American Way. Coaching positions should go to the most qualified applicant.

Fraudulent Seed Times….
If the credibility of a coach is compromised by his/her decision to falsify seed times than there needs to be a consequence. Bad seed times have bad consequences. In sprints, we see “unbalanced heats”. Here’s what happens… the top two from each heat advance to the next round. Due to bad seed times, three of the best runners wind up in the same heat.  This results in a deserving athlete being left out of the final.

In other events, bad seed times cause some athletes or relay teams to wind up in fast heats in which they are overmatched while superior teams dominate slower heats by huge margins. I can’t count the times which my teams have won or placed while running from one of the slow heats. The best thing for our sport is to see the best athletes competing head to head against each other.

Solution: Meet directors need to utilize the data bases on Running Maryland to check seed times or open the process up to competing coaches to police each other. When blatantly false times are submitted, the athlete should be relegated to the slowest heat. It’s not fair to the athlete, but a few letters from parents to administrators will keep the offenders honest.

Long meets….
I once read a quote from William Donald Schafer, “A bureaucracy will move as slowly as you let it.” So will a track meet. The amazing speed of The Howard County Winterfest was a great example of how meets can be expedited.  Weather conditions necessitated a fast meet and we got a fast meet. I heard that the Fast Times meet was quick. Kids, coaches and parents don’t deserve these marathon meets. I have to wonder if there isn’t a financial reason lurking somewhere. Sure, it costs a lot to rent the PG Sportsplex. I love the place. I just don’t think that we need so many entries to pay the bills. We are going to lose good athletes to other sports.

Solution:  Put a six hour cap on invitationals.  Sure, the state meet will still run long. But that’s OK. Meet directors need to organize and bring in experienced officials.

Condescending Officials….
I applaud the many excellent officials that I’ve dealt with throughout the years. They are some great people that we couldn’t do without. Then there are the “Others”. They lack respect for both the athletes and the coaches. There are a number of these types that seem to live for disqualifications. The funny thing is that they always focus on the uniform and jewelry rules. They don’t look for lane violations in staggered sprints, or obstruction in distance races, they just look for colored underwear, earrings and logos. Do we have to abide by the National Federation rules? I’ve seen officials bend over so that they might get a glimpse of a plaid boxer. That’s just weird. It penalizes hard working runners and generates bad press for the sport. Unfortunately, there are coaches with the “anything to win” mentality that will try to DQ competitors for their own teams greater glory. Some are notorious.
Solution: Reject the National Federation uniform and jewelry rules. Make our own rules which are reasonable and practical.  Create guidelines for officials based on mutual respect. Maybe a process in which coaches can report officiating abuses as well as excellence though the MPSAA.

Track as a second class sport….
Athletic directors and school administrators need to put track on the same level as football, basketball, soccer and lacrosse. I was told by one coach that when he was hired at a local school that he was told that the budget for his team was $150.00. He asked if that covered just equipment. The AD told him that was for everything, meet fees, equipment, everything. If the focus of administrators remains only on the “revenue producing” sports, we will see track fade into the sunset. The same way as it has with the Men’s programs at Towson University, West Virginia University and a growing list of schools.
The press has been a huge disappointment. I’m sure that Ed Lee of the Sun had his critics, but I for one miss him. Brad and his staff at Running Maryland deserve as much support as we can give them. We aren’t doing enough…myself included.

Solutions: It is in our power to influence administrators and even the press. Letters and phone calls go a long way. Injustice should be challenged and brought to light.  

As I said in the beginning, I love high school track. But we need to make some changes.

Mark Reedy
Track Coach
Hammond High School 
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