Thursday, January 13, 2011

And so it goes...

Warning: this post is not a goodbye, but rather, a "we'll see..."

As much as I'd like to produce a full-featured website, and a blog with regular updates on all the news our sport produces, the fact is that Life is a Big Thing. Usually every winter I have a minor crisis of faith and decide whether I'm going to do lists and yearbooks the following spring. This winter the crisis is bigger than normal. Yet it's not as if I'm an anguished man pulling his hair out--it's more like I'm too busy lately to even think about track.

My responsibilities as a father and husband come first. And my teaching comes before track as well. I've bought a house this winter that will take a lot of time to rehab, and we'll be moving in the midst of track season. And then there are my other projects--a second novel, a book on trail running, and (in the final stages now) a history of the cross country state finals. Seems like a lot on my plate, but I'd rather be productive than sit on the couch and watch TV.

But then there's Michigan high school track. I love keeping the stats, I love keeping the records. I have been doing this for 33 years now, so I feel very proprietary about it. It's my baby, and I would hate to see it abused. I stepped away once before, and no one picked up the slack in a way that pleased me. By the standards of the sport in this state I am perhaps too picky--no one else gives a damn about wind readings, for instance. And hardly anyone else cares about accurate FAT. In my most cynical moments, I tend to think that most coaches would be pleased if I threw away all my standards and put together the lists willy-nilly. Trouble is, for every bogus performance that gets on the list, all the legitimate performances below it are demoted.

It's hard to find people to do this sort of thing seriously. I know; once as managing editor for Track & Field News, I had to run a nationwide search for a new statistician. It's not as if I had to turn away thousands of qualified applicants. The job is hard, it takes great attention to detail, and it takes someone who will be there for years. That last point takes a lot of students out of contention. A 20-year-old might be gung-ho to do the lists for a season, but a new job, girlfriend, or school project might take them out of commission in a heartbeat.

Then there are the database lovers. The people who have superior knowledge of how to use software to make the job "so much easier." That's all fine and dandy, but any track performance database must do a good job of sorting hand and auto times where they need to be separated (the sprints) and combining them where they need to be combined (the distances). And noting questionable and windy performances. And be visually pleasing. So far, I've only seen one that does the job to my satisfaction: My Finnish friend Mirko Jalava has created the world's best track database, and it is simply an amazing model for others to try to emulate.

So, am I quitting? I dunno. But this year, I'm not making any promises. Life goes on.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The real junior nationals

I love the New Balance Outdoor Nationals. It is the best high school meet in the country, period. If an athlete has aspirations for a good end-of-year ranking from Track & Field News, or a better shot at Michigan athlete of the year (and the cover of my yearbook), they should compete there.

I also love the Junior Olympics, both USATF and AAU varieties. Their state qualifying meets drive me nuts, being statistical and organizational nightmares, but they do it right at the national level. However, in the grand scheme of things, the JOs are kid stuff.

Let's talk about the USA Junior Nationals, going on in Des Moines right now. Sponsored by USATF, it's the qualifying meet for the World Junior Championships, which will be held in Moncton, Canada, in late July. The top two Americans in each event will go to Worlds (if they meet the standards).

The term "Junior" internationally means teenager (roughly--they can't turn 20 before the end of the year). So the vast majority of high schoolers are eligible, and about half of college freshmen.

How good is the competition at the World Juniors? It is the best. Winning a medal at the WJs is a very good indicator of medal potential at the Olympics. From Haile Gebrselassie to Usain Bolt, many of the greats have run at the WJs. Check out these meet records: 10.09, 20.28, 44.66, 1:44.77, 3:35.53, 13:08.57, 27:30.86, 7-9.25, 18-8.75, and so on. Get the picture?

So who's in Des Moines going for it? Kendall Baisden, for one. She competed in the 100 today, finishing 7th in 11.76 (after an 11.75 heat). I haven't talked to her coaches yet, but I'm guessing she ran the 100 so she could be considered for the 4 x 100 relay pool--the U.S. will be a medal favorite at Worlds. She will also be running the 400 (she scratched the 200). There she not only has a chance to make the team but a chance to medal if she improves on her 53.05 PR. The meet record is 50.62, and in only three of 12 years has 53.05 been fast enough to medal.

Nick Kaiser is also there, running a PR 1:50.13 to make the final. That makes him the 5th fastest in Michigan history, and also betters the World Junior time standard of 1:51.00. (Even if a U.S. athlete wins at Des Moines, they must have a performance better than the IAAF standard to be entered at Worlds. This is real elite international competition, not the Caribbean Invitational.) (Hey, if you look at that link, you might also note that no sprint/LJ marks are accepted by the IAAF as qualifiers unless they have legal wind readings--which means no Michigan marks are acceptable unless I'm at the meet. Pretty pathetic--our officials need to get with the program on how our sport works.)

Other Michigan names I've spotted so far: Mumford's Debonie Lofton, 2:12.41 in the 800 heats. Ex-Portage Northern thrower Andrew Evans won the discus at 193-11 (in Junior competition, the men throw implements heavier than HS but lighter than college/Olympics). Also notable was Zack Hill (3rd at 63-6.75, 5th at 179-9). Jordan Clark, who apparently did not compete for Lathrup this year, ran 12.12 in the 100 heats. Samantha Lockhart, ex-Sexton, finished 12th in the shot at 45-8.5. Ariel Roberts (ex-Pioneer) placed 5th in the heptathlon at 4862.

I should also note that Saline's Brooke Pleger attempted to get into the Junior Nationals. Last week, in trying to reach the qualifying standard of 158-feet in the hammer, she reached 149-6 at Hillsdale. She may have been disappointed, but she should be very proud that she broke the all-time state record.

More on the U.S. Juniors meet in the next few days.

East Kentwood and Goethals rule Nationals

More on this later. I did not give them their due. East Kentwood (excuse me... KP Athletics in case anyone from Lansing is reading) won the national title, broke two state records in the relays, and absolutely rocked. And Megan Goethals! What can I say? The nutcases on MLive have already started ranting about cross country. NEWS FLASH: NO ONE CARES IF YOUR XC TEAM MIGHT MAKE TOP 10 AT STATE$ THIS FALL! I mean, I love XC as much as the next guy, as long as the next guy is sane. I even coach it, for gosh-sakes! I have 100+ munchkins on my middle school team! But really, you'd think that at least one person on MLive would watch the Goethals video and figure out that in winning the national title, she passed through 3200m in 9:58.1!!!!!!

Someone needs to start a facebook fan club for her.

Boo on the NSSF!

I'm back! I should mow my lawn more. That's where I start to thinking about track things and the next thing you know I'm furious about some mundane little issue that would take hours to explain to my innocent neighbor who is mowing his (better-looking) lawn at the same time.

For instance, today I want to share my excitement about the US Junior Nationals. But before I even go there, I have to vent about the whole "international meet in Puerto Rico" concept that is sponsored by the otherwise good folks at the National Scholastic Sports Foundation.

Here goes: the NSSF is a terrific organization that has done a TON for high school track in America. They created the indoor nationals, as well as the meet that is currently known as the New Balance Outdoor Nationals. They have also worked hard to provide international competitive opportunities for American preps. All good.

However, they now also put together a team to compete at the Caribbean Invitational in early June. They called it Team NSSF, and the kids get uniforms that look like real USA uniforms. This year, they put kids on the team even though it would cause them to miss their state finals. Bad. Very bad.

That happened with two top Michigan athletes. One is Dynasty McGee, and her story is complicated. She started the season competing for Lincoln High, and at the end of the season she wasn't on the team. I don't know the whole story and I honestly don't want to, so DON'T EMAIL ME!!! The other Puerto Rico athlete is Kyra Jefferson, another phenomenal athlete. According to NSSF sources, athletes with conflicting state meets weren't put on the team unless their high school coaches gave them permission.

I don't know the details of Jefferson's case, but there's some troubling flags flying. For starters, had she been at the D1 state finals, the results would have been considerably different. Her team, Cass Tech, finished tied for 45th place with three points. With her present, I think we would have seen her score a double win in the sprints, add a win in the 4 x 2, and possibly a win or a high placing in the 4 x 1 (they were in the fast heat). Let's say Cass Tech scores 40. They would placed 4th overall, lowering the scores of Rochester and Rockford but not changing the order. Perhaps the biggest losers were the Cass Tech relay members who didn't get to celebrate a victory.

Why would an athlete voluntarily skip the state finals? I can't imagine why an athlete would do so, and I hope we never see it again. To better their scholarship potential? Garbage. What a college coach sees in a situation like this is someone who is not there when their team needs them.

Or maybe it's the honor of representing the United States of America in international competition. Again: garbage. Only USA Track & Field is authorized to send true national teams abroad. That's why they pick the Olympic team--federal law mandates that. A team that is put together by the NSSF--while at no cost to the athlete--is about as official as the old sports tour scams ("give us $5000 and we will put you on an international track team competing in Europe"). Heck, give me $500 and I'll make you a Team USA jersey and find some Canadians in Windsor to race you. And guess what... the competition in Windsor will be about as good as what they faced in Puerto Rico (which is part of the United States anyways, but that's another rant).

So, Jeff, you're thinking... been drinking caffeine today? Under a lot of stress at home? Wife making you do dishes? Gave up caffeine... on vacation... and my wife's been very nice to me lately. I think I'm just ticked off at people who think it's somehow good for kids to tear them away from their state meets so they can compete against a team of Caribbean JV all-stars. Shame on them.

Friday, June 11, 2010

MHSAA bullies Kaddurah & Company

Track fans can scratch that hoped-for mile record tomorrow night. According to various sources, Omar Kaddurah and several other key Michigan athletes have withdrawn from the Midwest Distance Gala because the MHSAA has reportedly threatened their eligibility.

Disclaimer: I have not directly communicated with any of the parties involved at this point. My opinions here are based on years of past experience with similar stories.

My stomach turned when I got this news. This is what happens when ADs ask the MHSAA for interpretations on summer competitions: they never get a simple yes (or no). Instead, they are often given verbal discouragements, with written responses slow or non-existant. And even though summer competitions like the MDG are perfectly fine within MHSAA rules as we know them (as long as no school checks, uniforms, or transport are involved), the organization somehow feels it gains by scaring athletes away from such meets.

We all lose when this happens. And while I am thankful for all the MHSAA does for student athletes in this state, it would be ridiculous to think that we couldn't do better. Where are the foes of big government when we need them? Here is a quasi-governmental organization with great power, and it is only answerable (in a distant way) to athletic directors and principals. Not to the people the organization purports to serve: student athletes and their families. And yet this organization supports itself with funds raised on the backs of our student-athletes. When they overule the parents and dictate what students can and can't do on their summer vacations, it feels wrong to me.

Is anyone else out there troubled by this? I would love to see an athlete challenge the MHSAA on this. Look up your history, on the great running legend Gerry Lindgren challenging the NCAA to run in national championships and the USA vs USSR track meet in 1965. They threatened to take away his eligibility. His stand took guts, and it was the right thing to do. Where are those heroes today?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Division I wind readings

In an ideal world, the complete wind readings for all the affected events at all of the state finals would be on the official results, as the NCAA does. This year, the MHSAA required all state finals to use wind gauges. I'll be trying to get readings from the other sites, but for now, here's Division 1:

(All headwinds)
B100 heats: -1.2, -2.2, -2.3, -2.0; semis: -2.2, -2.1
G100 heats: -1.6, -2.0, -2.4, -1.6; semis: -2.2, -3.4
B110H heats: -2.1, -1.9, -1.5; semis: -2.5, -2.4
G100H heats: -2.4, -2.3, -2.3; semis: -3.2, -2.0
B200 heats: -1.8, -2.2, -1.3, -1.8; semis: -2.4, -0.9
G200 heats: -0.9, -1.5, -0.9, -1.7; semis: -2.2, -1.1

B110H -3.0
G100H -3.4
B100 -3.7
G100 -2.7
B200 -2.8
G200 -2.8

Long jump: gauge present, actual readings weren't recorded. All jumps had a crosswind/headwind.

If for no other reason, wind readings like these need to go on the official results, so that when we refer to the historical record in years to come, we have some understanding of why the times were so slow.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kaddurah to run Midwest Distance Gala

Anyone hoping to see Grand Blanc star Omar Kaddurah go after the state record in the mile will be well advised to pay attention to the Midwest Distance Gala, set for this Saturday at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois. A top-flight national class field will be competing. Last year, winning time in the mile was 4:02.70 (that's for a full mile, not 1600m).

Also competing in the mile will be Swartz Creek's Jeremy Dickie, who impressed at D1 with his 4:11.53; and Zach Kughn of Grand Blanc. The two mile will feature Morsi Rayyan of St Johns, David Madrigal of Durand, and Austin Whitelaw of Monroe. Brave Chad Machinski of Temperance Bedford will be attempting the 2000m steeplechase. Kyle Roche of Walled Lake Central will be in the 5000.

The meet's play-by-play announcing will be handled by our own David Mitchell, so it should be a good show. But where are the Michigan women? None are on the entry lists at this point. Our best seniors will be at the Midwest Meet of Champions on Saturday, but we have some underclasspeople who are definitely worth highlighting. Meier twins, are you listening?