Monday, May 26, 2008

The MHSAA's hand-timing mess

No decision that the MHSAA has made in recent years has set the sport farther back than the request that coaches report all hand times to the hundredth of a second. It’s against all the rules of the sport and common sense, because the human hand cannot time to that level of accuracy. When people follow the rules and round up, the newspapers (and the athletes) get more accurate information. They know that a time in hundredths is FAT, and can be relied upon as accurate. Hand times—so often—are fiction.

Case in point in Southeast Michigan: Ron Spears is a solid sprinter/long jumper for Milan. The papers report a 10.56 area record for him—even though in most meets he’s around 11.0. Then a couple weeks later, they say that Whiteford’s Josh Dupree just missed the area record with his 10.58. (Yes, I know, under the rules this should be a tie at 10.6.)

Now before their fan clubs attack me, let me say these are both very good athletes, but poor timing and reporting are putting an unrealistic set of expectations upon them. We’ll see what they can do with FAT timing at the state meet—and we would know even better if officials use a wind gauge. But these two—and many of the other athletes who have been given questionable hand times this spring—may be prone to what I have sadly seen time and again: they will go to the State meet, run the fastest races of their lives, and have to come up with lame excuses to explain why they ran so “slowly” compared to their earlier times.

The state record in the 100—the fastest legit, verifiable time ever—is 10.52 by Ahmad Rashad. To think that these hand times are even in the same time zone is ridiculous. And it’s doing nobody any favors to give athletes misleading information on how fast they’re running. As coaches and educators, we should be trying to give them the truth.

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