State USATF to again officiate track events at state

COLUMBIA – A half dozen members of the South Carolina USATF will be on the track at Lower Richland High Friday and Saturday, representing the association as officials overseeing the various running events at the SCHSL’s State Track and Field Championships.

This will be the fourth straight year that the state USATF has sent members to officiate at the high school league’s biggest track event of the year, according to Perry Funnie, president of the state association.

The officials supplied by the USATF will monitor the running events, Funnie said.  SCHSL coaches will umpire the field events.

The state USATF works with the South Carolina Track Coaches Association who conducts the state meet.

“I work with them to line up the umpires, the track judges for the meet,” said John Blackburn, a USATF member who will be on the track as the chief umpire.  

Blackburn, who is a chemical engineer when he’s away from the track, said he has been working for the past several days to contact the six certified officials who will be working this weekend’s meet.

“When we get to the meet, I will serve as the chief umpire and track referee,” he said.

Blackburn, now in his 25th year as a track official, said the umpires will serve a variety of roles while on the track this weekend.

“I tell my umpires there are three reasons why they are out there.  The first is so that the athletes, the coaches and the parents know that there are people watching them.  That means the athletes are less likely to do something stupid or illegal,” he said.

The umpires also are there to sort out situations involving a fall or other incident during an event that may or may not call for a disqualification.

“In case there’s some mishap, a tumble or a stumble or whatever, we’ll have a set of eyes out there that can report back and we can figure out what happened,” Blackburn said.

Finally, officials are there simply to report a track violation.

“It really is in that order,” Blackburn said, “because in track, you can have contact and someone can stumble as a result of some contact, but it doesn’t automatically mean a disqualification.  If someone violates the rules, there does need to be a disqualification, but it’s important for us to look at it both ways.”

As referee at the state meet, Blackburn has the authority to disqualify an athlete.

“If I get a report from an umpire that, for example, a 4x100 relay team passed the baton two meters beyond the row, that team would be disqualified,” he said.  That decision would be forwarded to the High School League officials, the coaches involved and the results table, he said.

According to its website, the USATF is the national governing body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the U.S.  It includes more than 50 state and local associations in all 50 states. Part of the effort in South Carolina is to work with high school coaches in attracting more young athletes to the sport.

“We use our knowledge in the sport to help bring high school runners into accordance with track and field standards,” Funnie said.

He said the association is currently working on ways to keep high track and field athletes active in the sport beyond the state meet and into the summer.

Funnie, who is in his first year as president of USATFSC, said sanctioned summer track events could offer a chance for marginal high school runners to improve their technique, training and PRs, and possibly attract the attention of coaches at the college level.

The state association meet is June 14-16 at Winthrop in Rock Hill.

“USATF is trying to open up avenues for high school athletes to be involved after the state meet,” Funnie said.