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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | THE HIGH SCHOOLS

It's Not Broke So Don't Try to Fix It

March 23, 2000|JOHN ORTEGA

Who came up with this idea?

That was the first thing that went through my mind earlier this year when I read a posting on the California Track and Cross-Country Coaches Alliance web site proposing the state track and field championships be changed from its one-division format to a four-division competition based on school enrollment figures.

Scott Fairley, track and cross-country coach at Cottonwood West Valley High in Northern California, made a proposal for the four-division meet at the state CIF track and cross-country advisory committee meeting last fall.

The proposal was tabled until further input could be gathered from coaches throughout the state. If unofficial polls since are any indication, it will proceed no further.

Why ruin, I mean change, what is consistently the best state high school track championship meet in the nation?

The thing that makes the California state meet so great--and unique--is that the best individuals from the most talented track state in the nation compete against each other.

Head to head competition is the essence of track and field.

It brings out the best in its athletes.

Yet Fairley, who coaches at a school with an enrollment of 1,100, wants to change a meet that has had a one-division format since it began in 1915.

He presented an 11-point argument with his proposal, but failed to convince me a four-division state meet would be a good thing.

Following are some of the reasons he gave.

* California is the most populated state in the nation, yet the only one to have a one division track championship.

Comment: So we should change because Texas, Florida and Ohio have multiple-division meets? There's nothing wrong with being different. That's often part of being Californian.

* With six of the state's 10 sections having some form of enrollment-based qualifying before their championships, it makes sense to have the same format at the state level.

Comment: Divisional championships are fine at the section level, but only the best of the best should compete in the state meet.

* Four divisions would allow for more participation at the state level and thus, increased individual self-esteem because of an increased number of winners.

Comment: Not the self-esteem issue again. Not everyone can be a state champion or medal winner. That's why it's special when an athlete achieves such a feat.

* Four divisions would improve the visibility of the sport. There would be better media coverage due to the increase in the number of athletes having success in the sport.

Comment: Bigger isn't always better. Have the Olympic Games become a better athletic competition because they've added sports such as synchronized swimming, mountain biking, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline (I'm not kidding), beach volleyball and short-track speed skating in recent years? I don't think so. The addition of those sports has cheapened what it means to be an Olympic champion and a four-division state meet would cheapen what it means to be a state champion.

* The state cross-country meet is great because of the number of athletes and spectators it attracts in a five-division format. What has worked for cross-country should work for track as well.

Comment: The state cross-country championships are exciting, but it would be even better if the 30 best teams and individuals in the state were in the same race. Cross-country is more of a team sport than track at the state level. One or two elite athletes can give a school a state title in track, but a cross-country team's score is based on the places of its top five runners and a team's No. 6 or 7 runner can figure in the outcome of a meet by finishing ahead of a scoring runner on an opposing team.

There is another drawback to the four-division format.

It would take 10 or 12 hours to stage the track events instead of the three it takes now.

Proponents of a four-division meet will point out that length hasn't hurt the five-division Texas state meet, which draws 25,000-30,000 spectators annually, but California doesn't need another marathon meet.

What it needs is a meet like the state championships last season in which a slew of nation-leading marks were produced in front of 16,175 spectators on the final day at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento.

What it needs is a meet in which venues like Hughes Stadium and Cerritos College are filled with avid fans who can't wait to see the best high school track and field athletes in California compete against one another for the honor to call themselves state champions.

Not state Division I, II, III or IV champions.

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