Column: "The Sports Trail": Storms, rain and missed graduations tale of track finals

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

by David McNeal

The state track finals were a disaster for the athletes last week, and for more than one reason. There was the obvious conflict with graduation exercises all across the state, which I'll get into in a moment.

Then there was Mother Nature.

Storms on Friday created havoc with the athletes, as wet surfaces in the shot, discus and high jump, not to mention the pole vault, kept most athlete's efforts below what they were able to do during the preliminary meet a week ago.

Distances and times suffered, and for what?

Apparently, someone put the bug in the ear of the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) a few years ago, and said what a wonderful thing it would be to have all the finals run at one location on one weekend.

Of course, as soon as the AAA realized they could sell tickets for another weekend, collect entry fees and promote themselves more, they jumped all over it, much to the detriment of the students who fuel the events.

Truth is, the preliminaries the last two years have been held on hot, sunny days, while the extra week needed to get to the finals has set up spring storms with dangerous lightning during the championships.

If the finals had been held on May 9, instead of preliminaries, I would be writing this about something else, like Funny Cide's victory in the Preakness last weekend.

Instead, I listened to coaches talk about the poor conditions, using words like "terrible conditions," "rough," and "wet and slick."

Worse, some also talked about kids that had to pick between competing or attending graduation.

One such competitor was Charles Lebow of Ozark, who qualified in the 100, 200, and 400m races. He made a deal with a prominent surgeon in Ozark to fly him back from Hot Springs after his races, weather permitting.

When he got to the meet, he first discovered officials had moved some running events up in an attempt to beat the incoming weather. Minimum warmup, then race.

He won the 400m dash in an awesome 48.89, and was fifth in the 100m dash in 11.34. I couldn't find his 200m time, but when it was all over he made the phone call to Ozark to see about the plane. It stayed on the ground, due to a line of violent thunderstorms across Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and he missed his graduation.

Frankly, I don't have any interest in seeing kids from AAAA and AAAAA schools race. I don't know them. I like seeing a good race, but just like at Oaklawn Park, it's more fun if you know the hosses personally.

Track isn't the popular spectator sport it was just a few short years ago. Coaches all year talked about how hard it was to get this generation's athletes to work at running and jumping. Yet it is the one sport that benefits all others.

The AAA can skip the everyone-at-the-same-location format as far as I'm concerned. I'm perfectly happy to watch our Carroll County kids take on their classification's best.

Especially if they don't have to miss graduation.

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