What a weekend! The Bob Jenkins SCTCCCA Coaches Classic was a tremendous success. Congratulations to all of the teams and individuals for obtaining your awards and PR's!
The Classic was started back in the late 80's as a state meet where all runners could compete against each other regardless of classification. And most of the time, a chance to run on the same course as the upcoming State Championships. Until a few years ago, the meet was held in September, but because of the heat the meet was moved to later in October to give all of the runners and teams a better chance to show off their talents. This year 2,368 athletes crossed the finish line in one of eight races. 248 teams received a score in the races in which they competed.
"In a basketball game, you do not cross the court to get to the stands on the other side - you walk around! As a spectator you should respect these barriers and the purpose that they are there. I was amazed at the number of people that would go under or over the flags to get from one place to another. Some coming through the timing area where over twenty thousand dollars of equipment is set up to ensure the proper place and time of every athlete that competes and many spectators casually walk through after crossing the flagging." - Ed Boehmke
Having retired from coaching over seven years ago, I still get a thrill watching runners compete, trying to guess the team winners as their runners cross the finish line and the sportsmanship shown by the athletes as they encourage and congratulate all of the others around them. I love watching the faces of the runners as they struggle to finish, their different approaches to crossing the finish mats, and their attempts to control their emotions, some crying, some joyous, some trying to keep from throwing up! It is a tremendous sport where everyone competes and spectators can get down right along all of the athletes to watch and encourage their favorite runner and team.
So, I decided to write another ramble to rant about a few things that I witnessed at the Classic with some explanation and remedies to these problems. Most are not problems at just the Classic (except the first one), but every large cross country meet in the state, and probably everywhere. I hope that every, coach, parent and athlete read this and pass along the information to everyone involved.
Why didn't you come?
The Bob Jenkins Coaches Classic is a fundraiser for the SC Track and Cross Country Coaches Association. The profits are used by the SCTCCCA to purchase awards for Runners of the Year, State Record breakers, Coaches of the Year, state championship awards, support the Shrine Bowl Cross Country Team athletes, as well as supplies and equipment to run off the Coaches Classic Cross Country and Track invitationals. The SCTCCCA is also responsible for hosting the State Qualifying XC Meets (November 3 and 4 at Newberry) for which we do not receive any funding from the SC High School League. Meets of this size and importance require a lot of money. Most people that attend to not realize the expense of such an endeavor. Cost include the timing company, officials, (such as starters, clerks, announcers, trainers), parking lot attendants, paint, portable toilets, course set-up and cleanup and course rental. A meet such as the Classic will easily cost over $10,000!
All high school team runners and teams benefit from the proceeds of this meet regardless if they choose to compete in them or not. The meet is meant to showcase all of our schools on the same course at the same time. A chance for the best to compete against the best. A chance for the others to see how they rank against the best. But this was not the case this year. For some reason, some of the better teams in the state chose not to attend. Eight 5A schools, 17 4A schools, 30 3A schools and 25 2A schools did not enter the meet. These schools included some top five ranked schools in their classification as well as many individual runners that will probably make their classification All-State Team in the State Championships. These same teams that decided not to contribute to the SCTCCCA's efforts are the same ones that will benefit from the SCTCCCA's contributions to the qualifiers and state championships that will make these events successful and memorable for all. It is a shame that these elite runners and teams chose not to compete in the largest, and most prestigious regular season meet of the year.
A method to our madness -- A parent's (and coaches) guide
Cross country is the only sport in which the spectators are allowed to run around the competitive facility. Coaches and parents want to get to strategic spots along the course to get times and encourage their favorite runner and team. Everyone wants to get to the finish line to grab the finish time or get a picture. But everyone needs to remember that there are others in the competition besides your favorite. Each athlete deserves the opportunity to run unimpeded and the opportunity to finish the entire race as quickly and as safely as possible. The cones and white lines are there to separate the spectators from the athletes and to offer a running course for the athletes. Spectators (and this includes coaches) should always exhibit extreme caution whenever you come to these because this is where runners are or will be. You may cross, if you need to, but never when any athlete is within fifty yards of where you are crossing. When you cross, do so quickly, making sure that all that are with you get across as fast as possible.
The area near the finish line that has flags or other obstacles are there to keep you out. It is not to be crossed for any reason at any time. We call these restricted areas. If you need to get to the other side you should go around. In a basketball game, you do not cross the court to get to the stands on the other side - you walk around! As a spectator you should respect these barriers and the purpose that they are there. I was amazed at the number of people that would go under or over the flags to get from one place to another. Some coming through the timing area where over twenty thousand dollars of equipment is set up to ensure the proper place and time of every athlete that competes and many spectators casually walk through after crossing the flagging. All of the equipment is connected by cables that run across the ground and your presence allows the possibility of damaging the equipment and/or blocking the cameras that are a necessity to the scoring process.
Lastly, on this topic, the flagged area behind the finish line (called the finish chute) is also a restricted area. No coach or athlete should every be in this area. Hundreds of athletes are crossing the finish line within a very few minutes and getting them away from the finish line after they cross is crucial. The officials in the chute are trying desperately to keep the runners moving towards the end of the chute to keep it from backing up and preventing other athletes from crossing the finish line safely. When an athlete crosses the line and then stops or falls down they are at a very high risk of other runners trying to finish colliding with them.
The officials are not trying to be mean by pulling on the runners to get them up or pull/push them along. One we couldn't avoid happened Saturday when a runner went to one knee a few feet past the finish line when another runner coming in fast, hit the first one in the head with her knee and cause her to fall. Luckily, they were both ok, but this example shows that the potential was there for some serious injuries. And the area just past the finish line is the nastiest place on the course. It is the place where hundreds of athletes have crossed and many have spit and vomited here.
Coaches to do not need to be in this area. I understand that the athletes are struggling here, but they have just run 3.1 miles and they can walk a little farther, they do not need your assistance. If one of the athletes are needing assistance that you are aware of, tell the trainers that are in the chute. They will be on the lookout and they are there for all of the others that do need assistance. Any others that are in the chute simply clog up the area and inhibit the athletes from exiting.
Imagine what the chute could look like, what a tremendous backup could occur if coaches from every school or parents were in the chute area to catch their athletes. They are athletes and should, with very few exceptions be allowed to take care of themselves for a few extra yards. And, as all of the coaches should know, that if you are in a restricted area, the very athlete that you are trying to "help" can be disqualified by your actions. Stay out of the finish chute and let them leave.
And a few things for the athletes
During the course of the meet, we also observed many things that the athletes need to be aware of and have not been told by their coaches or simply have ignored. At the Classic we tried to address these; we are not trying to be mean. They are the rules and at larger meets such as the qualifiers or the state you may be disqualified and possible restricted from competing in future meets.
First the competitors, the competition and officials should always be respected. When confronted by an official, you should not question their authority but simply accept it and correct the problem. As an example, we saw many boys take their shirts off after the competition. It is against the rules to be without one anywhere in the competition area, which includes the entire facility, even in a warm-up or cool down. We said this to many and some corrected it, some ignored us, some simply put a shirt over their neck without putting it through their arms. First, they broke a rule, and second some of them ignored the request of an official. Either of these could cause a disqualification and both together could cause more extreme punishment.
Next, I will mention some of the things that are worn by athletes that are not legal. Headbands are OK to wear provided they are smooth all of the way around. In other words, it cannot be tied and have a knot or a bow in them. Girls can have clips or headbands, but cannot have anything that does not lay flat on her head. Sunglasses are illegal, unless they are prescription. Coaches, you should have a doctor note or the prescription to show officials that the athlete needs to wear the prescription glasses. Others are not allowed.
Athletes, you are responsible for walking/jogging through the finish chute after you cross the finish line. We know you are tired; you gave a fantastic effort for over three miles, but it is important for your safety and well as the safety of you competitors, that you exit the finish chute as quickly as you possible can. If you've read all of this you have already seen an example of what could happen. One official I heard this weekend say that when an athlete stops or goes down, it is like a car crash pile-up on the interstate -- one car stopped for some reason and others run into it. Before long, the pile up will extend beyond the finish line and we will not be able to get the correct time and place for following runners. We also do not need you falling down and rolling under the flagging. There is equipment there that is necessary to the timers and it is possible that you could hit them or block them.
"Imagine what the chute could look like, what a tremendous backup could occur if coaches from every school or parents were in the chute area to catch their athletes." - Ed Boehmke
A final example for athletes that at the qualifier or state meet would have had dire consequences for the athlete. The runner approached the finish line walking. Once he crossed he threw his finish chip on the ground (he did pick it up). He was wearing sunglasses. An official went to him to tell him he could not wear them, but he just kept walking and never acknowledge the official. A second official saw this and confronted him by asking the athlete if the glasses were prescription. By the look of them, they were obviously not, but the athlete said they were. Upon inspection, they were just cheap drug store sunglasses. The officials were not disqualifying anybody just trying to make the athletes aware of the rule violation.
And finally, some things I have observed, but luckily not at the Classic.
1. Athletes, do not rip your number off as soon as you cross the finish line. It is needed to identify you by the timers. I know that you may not like the way you ran, but don't take it out on the number!
2. Your language must be appropriate. Do not, even under your breath, use any foul language or derogatory statements of any kind, even if it is just your words of frustration or celebration. They are not allowed.
3. Be respectful of all athletes, coaches and officials with your language and your actions.
4. Always run in a straight line towards the finish. Do not move over in an attempt to block someone from passing you. Do not throw yours hands out in an effort to block someone from passing you at the finish. Both of these will get you disqualified.
5. Do not do anything at the finish line that may be considered as showing off or showing up your opponents such as turning around and pointing, etc.
6. When finishing, do not stop your watch -- wait until you have completely crossed and are out of line of the cameras. When you reach across your body to stop your watch, you cover up the number you are wearing which makes it very difficult for the timers to identify you. Better yet, don't wear a watch. The results are up on the web very soon after you finish anyway! (As a footnote, a survey from the National Federation this past spring asked if coaches would be opposed to a rule to restrict watches from athletes for this very reason).
As I said earlier, cross country is a great sport. Its premise is simple, it's athletes great. The officials that work these events simply want the athletes to have a safe time as well as one that is free from interruptions or problems. We ask that you simply know and follow the rules, some, but not all of them, I have tried to point out in this article. If in doubt, ask! Let's make sure that this great sport is supported and understood by all.
Guest column by Ed Boehmke, coached for 38 years in South Carolina.