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Contributor: The Nerd
Two days, three day, four days?
Traditions die hard in athletics, but over the past eighteen months the COVID pandemic has seemingly impacted every Nebraska high school sport in significant ways. Spectator limits, the cancellation of all Spring 2020 sports, new safety protocols and more – we have seen more sports changes in Nebraska since March 2020 than we’ve probably seen in twenty years.
I’ve been consistently complimentary of the NSAA in how they approached the pandemic. The NSAA was able to safely complete the State basketball tournament in March 2020 when many states did not, and their reasoned approach allowed Fall 2020 seasons and championships to go on without much of a hiccup. This past spring, when the vaccine distribution schedule was still fairly uncertain, the NSAA made the decision to adopt a four-day State track meet schedule that reduced congestion and resulted in no spectator limits. Like most track fans, I was truly happy to see the kids competing. In addition, I have not heard of any documented COVID spread that arose from the State track meet.
Of course, nothing is ever perfect. The amended schedule segregated the four classes, but compressed the events, so that each Class schedule was completed for the day before the next Class started, creating a mini-version of Groundhog Day. Big-city kids didn’t get to watch small town athletes fly by them, and the small-town kids weren’t near the track when Class A studs like Hinrichs, Chot and Romary fought it out in the three distance races. On the last day, I walked away happy that the meet was held but pondering how it could be improved. And then I promptly forgot about it.
A few weeks ago the NSAA announced that they would be repeating the four-day schedule for the 2022 State meet. While there would be a few minor changes, the Class separation and most of the schedule would stay in place.
I had two roles at State track 2021 – as a parent of a Class A competitor on Wednesday and Thursday, and as a media member for all four days. My observations:
With a designated window before running events began, the field events were less rushed. While some events such as long jump finals and the pole vault competition required athletes to bounce between their field event and a running event, it wasn’t as much of an issue as in previous years.
While total fan attendance was strong, very few sessions had the buzz that we’re used to seeing on the Saturday session each year. I can recall a few specific events that had fans on their feet, such as the ovations that Carson Noecker and the Class A boys received after the 3200 races, but the environment wasn’t as amped – particularly with Class A schools competing in the middle of the week.
While the schedule was extended to four days, the separation of Classes on each day meant that the running events were more compressed than previous years even with some built-in awards breaks (which I liked). That, in turn, made it more difficult for athletes competing in multiple events. This was particularly impactful on Day 2 for each Class when, for example, the 800 meters would have 16 heats (two of each gender for each Class) before the next event. Under the old schedule there was simply more time for athletes to recover and still compete well in multiple running events on Day 2, such as the 400/800, the 800/1600, the 300 hurdles/400, etc. Perhaps in response to these complaints, the NSAA has suggested that they may eliminate heats for the 300 hurdles and the 400 meter dash to address this, but this is still going to be an issue for other races.
I spent most of my four days on the backstraight, and I did my share of chatting up the volunteers between races. I’m 55 and in reasonably good shape, and I was exhausted at the end of the day. Now consider the average race official, who is likely a retired coach or teacher over age 65, and park them in the sun for four days. I didn’t see any evidence that the NSAA was lacking for volunteers this year, but the race officials are not a young crowd. They’re part of the flavor of the meet and I would hate to see a four-day schedule chase them away.
I did not miss the 16 consecutive heats of the 4×400 on Saturday. Unless you can leave as soon as your kids run, that’s a very long two hours.
Most of the athletes’ parents are working-class age. While competing at State is a huge achievement, the Wednesday/Thursday schedule for Class A and D is pretty brutal for folks who don’t have flexible schedules or an excess of vacation days.
When NSAA made the announcement earlier this month, a few coaches reacted negatively on social media. Seeing that response, I used our Twitter account to ask for constructive feedback that we could share with the NSAA and fans, but surprisingly had little reaction. However, I did receive a lengthy proposal from Parker Schoen, a former T&F head coach and teacher at Lincoln Southwest. Perhaps more impressively, Parker turned in extra credit: he sent me a detailed schedule for a three-day meet.
A three-day meet isn’t a new idea. Many states already do it, and Iowa has long had a three-day meet where all four of their Classes compete on each of the three days. However, Iowa still offers two sessions per day so their versions of Class A/D compete together before Class B/C hit the stadium. Parker proposes a different model – he wants all four classes competing together each of the three days, which will expand rest time between races while also allowing fans and athletes to see the best in State.
I’ve uploaded Parker’s proposed running and field event schedule for your review. Here are a few of his arguments while his three-day schedule is better than four days:
His schedule allows every existing event to be packed into a three-day, 8-9 hour meet. With 10:00am starts, athletes have more time to sleep. There’s a deep library of literature on how starting the school day later will improve learning performance, and this may also hold true for athletics.
Having every Class start their day in the morning allows distance events to be run before the heat of the day, while pushing sprints to the warmer part of the day when sprinters perform better.
The expanded schedule allows more time for athletes to compete in two, three or four events and to do their best in each event.
Prelims wouldn’t have to be eliminated in the 300 hurdles or 400 meter dash, and the NSAA could consider prelims in the 4×100 or 4×400 on Day 1 if the coaches support it. With heats in the relays, this would speed up the finals on Day 3.
The expanded schedule could allow for the introduction of the Distance Medley Relay, a huge draw at NCAA meets and a great way to increase athlete participation. Perhaps we could even throw in the javelin, an incredible event that Nebraska USATF athletes are already competing in during the summer. I’m sure the weight coaches would love to have an event on each of the three days, and particularly a new one that highlights the athleticism of their athletes.
Finally, here were Parker’s guiding principles in creating the three-day schedule:
1. Boys events together (all Classes)
2. Girls events together (all Classes)
3. Keep similar events spaced out
4. No prelims/finals on same day
5. Boys/girls separate on longer events; avoids two-hour events
6. Space out events for spectators
7. Keep necessary events back-to-back for workers
8. Periodic awards breaks to recognize athletes
9. Give ample cool-down time before awards when possible
10. Rotate events for coaches with multiple events and smaller programs.
11. Three-day intertwined meet includes every Class on every day
12. Event finals on the track every day for every class
13. Meet finishes by 6:00 p.m. (ish), stimulates host city economy
14. Less time at track each day for athletes, fans, coaches and volunteers
15. Long distance races in morning to protect athletes from heat
I could write more, but the point isn’t to convince you that Parker has designed the perfect schedule. Our goal is to start a discussion. Parker and I are two guys living a in vacuum; we’re fans and nothing more. Neither of us coach track and field, and both of us live in big cities. We’re love to hear feedback from coaches, fans and athletes – particularly those from small towns who would have to spend another day in Omaha. Feel free to respond to our social media posts, send me a DM on Facebook or Twitter, or e-mail feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three-day running event schedule
Three day field event schedule
For the best Cross Country Coverage in the State of Nebraska: Prep Running Nerd - www.preprunningnerd.com - Follow on Twitter: @PrepRunningNerd | Facebook: PrepRunningNerd and Instagram: PrepRunningNerd!