Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Birkmeier vaults state record!

Defending D1 pole vault champ Sarah Birkmeier lofted herself over state record 12-3 tonight in a MITS meet at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids. The Rockford junior topped the old best of 12-1 set by East Kentwood's Abby Shanahan at the MITS finals in 2007. Coached by Kevin Patterson, Birkmeier has steadily improved over the years and is now poised to become the best vaulter in state history. The outdoor state record is 12-7 by Dexter's Becca Pilkerton, set last season. Birkmeier's outdoor best of 11-11 is the state 10th grade record.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On February 13, vote YES YES YES

(Or rather, "agree, agree, agree.") You have the historic opportunity to move track & field in Michigan forward. If you are a coach, assistant coach, or wannabe coach, please be at the business meeting of MITCA in Lansing on February 13 at 4:05 p.m., and please mark AGREE on your survey form.

The leadership of the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association is putting forward a logical and crucially important set of proposals to improve the timing situation in our state. At the business meeting, the membership will be surveyed as to its preferences. If more than 70% of coaches agree to the proposals, they will be forwarded on to the MHSAA. That doesn't guarantee the proposals will happen, but it's a very influential first step.

And while there have been many important MITCA --> MHSAA proposals over the years, never has a set of proposals been nearer to the purpose of the michtrack website: that since our athletes try so hard to improve constantly, we owe them the most accurate timing and measurement possible.

Let's look at the proposals individually:
1. At the 2008 MITCA Track & Field Business Meeting, 80% of the coaches polled stated that they believe that “The MHSAA should follow National Federation regulations and have all regional "hand timed" times be recorded to 0.1 seconds.” If the MHSAA were to revert back to following this National Federation guideline (as it did prior to the 2007 season), the Head Meet Referee should be officially responsible for verifying the results at the completion of the Regional Finals and make sure that all hand times were properly rounded up to the next higher tenth of a second. If the times were not properly rounded, the Head Meet Referee will make sure that all of those times are properly rounded before they are finalized and submitted to the MHSAA for State Finals Seeding.
The Michtrack response: common sense. This is all about fairness in the seeding at the state meet. It was crazy that the state put its stamp of approval on the bad habits of some. Here's our chance to get out of that mess and get back in compliance with the rules. STRONGLY AGREE

2. The MHSAA should set an official goal of having all Regional Championships use Fully Automatic Timing by the year 2014 (5 years).
The Michtrack response: we have nearly enough FAT timing systems available in the state right now to handle the job. This goal is not only achievable; it's about doing the right thing for the kids. STRONGLY AGREE

3. The MHSAA should allow Regional hosts to use Fully Automatic Timing if it is available to them.
The Michtrack response: of course! What a bizarre message we have given to our athletes over the years at regionals--"we have the ability to give you accuracy but we're not going to." Student-athletes who pour their hearts out on the track deserve, at the very least, the most accurate time we can give them. STRONGLY AGREE

4. If some Regions were to use Fully Automatic Timing, the performances for State Qualifying performances recorded as Hand Times should be adjusted by a pre-established “conversion” factor for the purpose of seeding at the state finals.
The Michtrack response: common sense. At this point, there is no problem with mixing FAT times and a hopefully declining number of hand times in the seeding lists, as long as we use a fair conversion factor. STRONGLY AGREE

5. If the MHSAA begins allowing Fully Automatic Timing at Regional Finals, they should establish a list of Additional Qualifying performances (AQ’s) for both Hand Times and Fully Automatic Times (FAT) so that Regional hosts can utilize accurate FAT timing without penalizing those athletes. Until the majority of Regionals begin utilizing FAT, the existing Hand-Timed AQ’s should be modified by adding 0.4 seconds to existing hand-times to create the FAT-AQ times.
The Michtrack response: I've written numerous times about the fictional and misleading nature of the 0.24 conversion. Time and again, comparison studies show that 0.4 is the best conversion. STRONGLY AGREE

6. The MHSAA should sanction (not host or sponsor) “Certified Pre-Qualifying Invitationals” whereby athletes can automatically qualify to the State Finals by attaining pre-established performance standards at sanctioned invitationals in the weeks immediately prior to Regionals. In order to be sanctioned as a pre-qualifying meet, hosts would be required to register their meet with the MHSAA, properly utilize an FAT system and windguages and adhere to all regulations regarding their usage. Hosts would also be responsible for acquiring specified numbers and types of registered officials who closely monitor the operation of the meet as well as the validity of any Pre-Qualifying performances that might be attained at that meet. Anyone would be allowed to host a Certified Pre-Qualifying Invitational as long as they are able to meet all of the established requirements.
The Michtrack response: Very intriquing proposal. In the end, what would it change? Probably not a big difference in who qualifies for the state finals. However, it would give long-standing meets the incentive to give our athletes more professional and accurate timing. I think we'd also see an increase in great athlete match-ups as well. STRONGLY AGREE

What about the naysayers? I've been to a zillion of these meetings, and have seen good proposals get shot down before. Usually, three factors are at work: fear of change, self-interest, and confusion over details. Let me address those.

Fear of change: Yes, there is some change involved. You'll hear: "Why can't we do it the way we've always done it?" Funny. We tell our athletes they should always strive to improve. Don't you think that we as coaches, officials and meet directors can do the same? Maybe with an increase in quality timing, we'll see fewer athletes crushed because they tried to peak at the state meet and their 10.8 (bad) hand times were only worth 11.20.

Self-interest: unfortunately, many coaches will evaluate these proposals through the lens of "how will this affect me?" Hopefully, most will see that this will help them give better times and more informed feedback to their athletes. But please take a step beyond that. Think of the sport as a whole. We ask the athletes to give us their best. Let's return the favor and give them the most professional treatment we can. They've earned it.

Confusion over details: I have often seen proposals die because of infighting over minor details. Think of Moses parting the Red Sea. If he had first surveyed coaches, the proposal might very well have died in an argument over whether the pathway was 10 or 15 feet wide! Seriously, help these proposals not get bogged down over little things (arguments over whether the conversion should be 0.39 or 0.40 or 0.41, for instance). Details can always be ironed out and corrected in future years. However, a good proposal that doesn't get a 70%+ survey response will often not come back for years, or ever.

So there you have it. Please encourage others in the coaching community to be in Lansing on the 13th and help advance these proposals. This is all for the athletes and the future of our sport. Let's make it happen.

For a look at MITCA's well-written rationale for the proposals, check this out.

Click here for a clinic registration form.

Click here for info on the very inexpensive student clinic--a must for any interested athlete!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dawson takes weight record back

On Monday, Saline senior Quinn Dawson held the state record in the 25lb weight throw for just a few minutes before Zack Hill took it away decisively, winning by nearly three-and-a-half feet. On Thursday, Dawson showed that the battle for weight dominance is anything but decided.

Throwing at the MITS meet at the University of Michigan, Dawson hit a state record 60-8.75 on his first throw, breaking Hill's mark of 59-1. In round two he went 61-5.75, a mark that ranks him 11th among American high schoolers. He finished off in fine style, with tosses of 61-2.5, 56-4, f, 61-5. That leaves him with the four best throws in state history.

We're not sure when Hill's next meet is, but we are looking forward to a great season with both young men pushing each other to greater achievements. As more young people try the new event, we're certain to see more surprises.

Incidentally, the throws aren't the only place we've seen action this season. Dynasty McGee is just four inches away from her own state record in the triple jump after her 37-0 on Wednesday in Saginaw. Chris Jimmerson of Okemos has leaped 6-10 and threatened 7-0. And Jordan Clark has blistered a 7.75 in the 60m dash. This promises to be a fun indoor season, no matter how cold it is outside. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The importance of today...

We still have a long way to go. That's what I thought as I watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama this afternoon with my fifth hour writing class. That's what I thought when a phone call interrupted; an enraged parent cussed me out for showing the inauguration. When I said I thought it important that students respectfully listen to the words of our new President, the parent responded, "He's not my #&^% president..." and on and on.

I am thrilled that the nation has come together in a way that I have never seen in my lifetime, but I know that we still have hate among us, and it will only be conquered by hard work and patriotism and love, and it may take a long time.

Is this even about track? Yes it is. Track is just a little part of the world, but for me, who came out of an all-white community near Detroit, track was my first real introduction to African-Americans. It was the first point of shared passion for the finest and the first of all sports. It was the first classroom where I learned that we are united by our commitment to reach our potential, in track and in life, and that commitment can be more powerful than skin color.

I feel that I am so lucky to have been a part of this sport. The diversity of people I have met has helped me appreciate that America doesn't belong to any one skin color, but to all. At your next track meet, take a look around. We are all blessed to be here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Hill hammers weight record by nearly 10 feet!! Flanary breaks record again!

Corrections and additional info: Zack Hill continued his banner season at MSU tonight by bettered the old state record in the 25-lb weight throw by nearly 10 feet. However, the first record of the night fell to Saline's Quinn Dawson, whose first-round 55-6 added more than six feet to the old record of 49-9.25 set by Carleton-Airport's Jake Stasa at the Sid Sink Open in Bowling Green last season.

Hill started out at 54-0, then went 57-11, for a new state record. He followed that with a 57-1.5 and a foul, then added two more records in his final two throws. A fifth-round 58-1.5 added another 2.5 inches to the mark, then he closed nearly a foot farther at 59-1.

Hill's winning throw on YouTube.

Meanwhile, Shana Flanary of Carleton-Airport broke her own state record by two inches with a toss of 45-5. Flanary's series was her best ever: 44-0, 44-3, 45-0, 45-5, 43-6. And her teammate, Austin Grant, broke the sophomore record for boys with an impressive 44-1. When the dust finally settled, all agreed it was a banner night for the new event.

Hill, who set another state record earlier this year with the big 16lb (college) shot, won the shot tonight at 60-0. Here's the YouTube video on that, thanks to the Hill family.

The weight throw will be a MITS championship event this season, giving Michigan throwers another chance to prove themselves to college recruiters. Hill's 59-1 ranks him =14 in the United States currently. Special thanks to Mark Hill, Zack's father, for his rapid reporting of results from ringside. Kudos to Ryan Flanary for additional information.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Flanary breaks state record twice!

Throwing today in her first meet of the season at Ohio Northern University, Carleton-Airport sophomore Shana Flanary twice broke her own state record in the 20lb weight throw. Her old best of 43-7.5 she set as a ninth grader. Today she started out at 41-5.25, then scared her record with a 43-3. Her first record came on the next throw, a 43-11.75. She followed that with a 36-10.5 and 41-4.25, then unleashed a monster 45-3 on her final attempt.

Since the weight is still unfamiliar to many Michigan high schoolers, it's probably hard to understand how good these marks are. They're not just records because this is a new (or "weak" event). Her throws today should put the sophomore in the top 10 nationally (keep in mind that this is a common event on the East Coast. It is also an NCAA event, and this year will be contested in the MITS Championships. Anyone interested should find out more--there will be some clinic opportunities at some of the MITS meets so that interested athletes can try it.