​State USATF hoping to lure more youth to officiating

<p> Complete coverage from the 2015 outdoor season and leading up to the season. Support scrunners.com and its coverage, <a href="https://www.milesplit.com/insider/payment?ref=navbar&amp;site=42&amp;after=" target="_blank">become a MileSplit Insider</a>.</p>

SUMMERVILLE -- State USATF President Thaddeus Sligh is trying to bring more young people into a rapidly aging team of track and field officials, an effort that appears to be working.

Manon Kling entered the USATF's apprentice program last year at age 14, the earliest year at which a person can join the program. The Ashley Ridge High freshman is now 15 and in her final year as an apprentice. Next year, she will likely move up to the associate level.

There are older teens in the program, Sligh said. The South Carolina chapter also has Lexington High junior Brandon Hoffman officiating, along with a couple of 18- and 19-year-olds. But Manon is the only 14-year-old.

Video: Get to know USATF-S.C President Thaddeus Sligh

“We're trying to encourage young people as much as possible to consider being an official," Sligh recently told scrunners.com.

Sligh said the average age nationally for USATF track and field officials is 68½, and when one of those folks either retires from the track or passes it adds stress to the officiating team.

“We lose a tremendous amount of experience when older members die or move on to emeritus," he said. “That's one reason why we're trying to encourage younger people to get involved."

As in Manon's case, Sligh said he's not necessarily looking for someone competing in track and field or long-distance running to get involved in officiating, which requires an entirely different mindset.

“Manon has been very good at it, so far," Sligh said. “She will be a good official."

Still, Manon didn't just decide one day to step onto the track. Her family has been involved in track and field and long-distance running for many years. Her brother, Kyle, competed in track and cross country for four years at Coastal Carolina University where he still holds the record in the 3,000 meters.

“Manon has dabbled in local 5K's or a 10K here and there, but because of her older brother, she's been exposed to tracks and cross-country courses practically all of her life," Manon's father, Chris, said.

Manon also has shadowed her father at numerous meets through his involvement in USATF. He is currently membership/sanctions chair for the state chapter.

“With me being an official, we would go to meets and Manon would work with me in the long-jump pit or the shot, things like that," Chris Kling said. “I wouldn't call it a natural evolution for her, but she kind of gravitated to it."

Manon took the apprentice test last July and received her certification shortly after that, Kling said.

As an apprentice, Manon has been working meets with an experienced official for the most part, though there is a degree of autonomy built in, Chris Kling said. The apprentice level involves a lot of hands-on knowledge, he said, then after two years there, officials move up to the association level, followed by the national level, master and emeritus.

Manon said she plans to take the association-level test upon turning 16 this December. She said working as an apprentice has gone “pretty well."

“It wasn't what I expected -- I thought it would be tougher," she said.

So far, as an apprentice, Manon has been working the long jump, triple jump and she works with a crew of three to start races.

"The meets Manon has started have been mostly youth meets," Chris Kling said. She also has also started a combination high school/college cross-country meet at Coastal Carolina.

Manon said she plans to stay in the officiating side of the sport at least through the master level, which would give her the opportunity to serve as a head official at regional and national meets. It's a goal both her father and Sligh feel is well within her reach and one that will benefit the USATF.

"Manon is pretty much a different person when she has the officials shirt on," Kling said. "She does her due diligence and makes sure she's doing the right thing."

Given the good times the Kling family has enjoyed from the sport over the years, Chris Kling said it's been a joy watching his daughter return the blessing.

"It's always good to see people who get something out of a sport to give back a little bit and stay involved."

Track club coach's passion paying dividends for kids and sportS.C. USATF Master Official Olympic Trials 2012 journal