Column: "The Sports Trail": Preliminary meets, finals, drag season out for seniors

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

by David McNeal

What a weekend ---- if you were an avid track fan, that is.

Yes, it was the weekend of the state track preliminary meets, held across Arkansas in all five classifications. It is one of the highlight events of the season for those who run and throw, and this year was no exception.

However, there were a couple of basic flaws with the entire process, beginning with the fact that running preliminaries on one weekend, and the actual finals the next, extends the season one more long, miserable week for young runners and throwers, right at the end of school.

It also, again, caused a conflict with graduation exercises all over the state. Worst hit this year was Green Forest and their ace 3200m relay team. That group of young men had already run a time that would qualify them for the finals in Hot Springs this Friday, but that also happens to be the date for Tiger graduation, on May 16.

Three seniors on the team were faced with choosing ---- qualify and run in the state finals in Hot Springs, or attend graduation with their classmates. Two chose graduation.

Since there was no point in qualifying if they weren't going to run, they stepped aside and let younger runners take their place.

Point is, the kids should never have had to make that kind of choice. The adults who schedule events should have avoided that kind of conflict in the first place.

It also would have affected Eureka Springs, who also has graduation this Friday, but their lone qualifier was a freshman, so no problem ---- this year. But I wonder how many seniors really put their best effort into a sport that is finishing after they already have.

That's right. Berryville seniors graduated last Saturday, a day after the prelims, and a week before the finals. Not too bad, you say? But they attended their last classes on May 2.

Let's see. Finish classes, then lay around the house taking it easy for two weeks, or get up every day and go to track practice for a workout. For most seniors, that is a no-brainer, although to their credit, a number of our local runners stuck it out and made that effort.

The blame for this mis-management can be laid squarely in the lap of the Arkansas Activity Association, who governs sports in the state. Where did they get the idea to separate the preliminaries and the finals by a week?

And who checked with the schools they are supposed to service to make sure dates didn't conflict?

The good news is, the Heber Springs crew, where Berryville and Green Forest competed, ran off a great meet. It was on time, results were obtained quickly, concession stands and food service were handy and efficient, and the athletes were given a great experience.

But it wasn't easy. Meet organizers said it took 150 volunteers to manage all that ---- for one day. And now I'm hearing that a school in the county might want to bid for one of those meets next year.

That might be possible ---- if some of the other issues can be resolved before then.

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