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.