Road to state: Course preparation with John Jones

What is your role or roles with Saturday's meet? 
My role for State is to make sure that the course is set up and that it is safe and easy to follow. I also set up an area for the trainers, reserve an area for registration and results, get bleachers brought in for awards, order the portable bathrooms, make sure the clocks are set up and the awards area is ready to go. I also get the boosters to run the parking area and get workers for the course.

When do you start this week preparing and on the day of? 
Some of the preparation is done months in advance. The actual course set-up starts Tuesday afternoon after the course is mowed. Tuesday through Friday set-up is going on from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.. Then on Saturday I am on the course at 5am. That morning I usually set up the sound systems first then set up the race clocks. The entry roads are set up next and then the final course preparation is done once the sun comes up. About an hour before the first race I drive the course to make sure nothing has changed from the night before and that the course is ready. I also make race time announcements and usually announce at the awards ceremony.

How many are involved with your responsibilities? 
During the week I am assisted by my volunteer assistant coach Joe Tomlin after he gets off work. On Saturday coach Joe Paschal and coach Rick Crumpler come out before dawn and pitch in with coach Joe Tomlin. Mr. Joe Hudson, the Sandhills caretaker, is also an invaluable source of help. He gets the course mowed and any imperfections corrected (ground smoothed, holes filled, trees trimmed). He provides extension cords, a gator to drive, boards to fix things and so many other little things I can’t remember them all. I also need to acknowledge the help of members of my team. Like most high school athletes, they are always willing to lend a hand. Many of my best helpers are also Eagle scouts or close to it. Because of all my program does, my athletes are used to helping all the time in cross country and in track.

When the meet is over, what work is left for you? 
When the state meet is over it takes me a week or more to close up shop. As soon as the meet is over all of the electronics must be put away. Then comes the fun job of cleaning up all the trash and putting it in the dumpster. All of the rooms we used must be cleaned and locked. All of the roads we blocked have to be reopened. Gates have to be opened or closed and all of the banners need to come down on Saturday. Usually around 5 p.m. I give up and go home. Each day for the next week, including Sunday, I will work for about two hours a day taking down all the flags, cones, ropes, tower, tables, coolers and putting them back where they belong. Then over the next week I will take all of the equipment that will be needed for track season back to Spring Valley. 

What kind of challenges you have experienced in the past? 
I only see minor inconveniences that need to be overcome. Like in the early 80’s it was getting Ft Jackson to provide water for the course, use of their PA system and an on site ambulance. Then in the early 90’s they added soccer fields on the course and later a softball complex and each time I had to rearrange the course. Then came 9/11 and I had to find a new course in a matter of weeks. Finding Sandhills was a gift from above. Then the coaches wanted to go back to Ft Jackson then we wanted to come back to Sandhills. Since finally deciding on Sandhills, we have changed the course twice, we have built an awards pavilion, we have changed the flow patterns for spectators, and we have seen the sport grow to record numbers and it has all been great to be a part of. 

How do you balance coaching and meet management? 
The balance I find between coaching and managing meets has become a routine for me and my teams for many years now. My athletes understand what I and my staff will be doing on meet days and they learn to be self reliant. We coach extremely long and hard leading up to the big meets and we as coaches expect our athletes to be ready to compete with minimal pampering.

What do you hope everyone gets out of Saturday?
Saturday, I want each athlete that is privileged enough to have made the state meet to have a fair shot at performing their best. I want few distractions or drama before they perform. I want the races to go off on time and to be scored to perfection. I want all the spectators to have a great time and feel that they were a part of the action.

When the season is over, what do you do with your time? 
Saturday at 2 p.m. – track season starts. After the couple of weeks putting away equipment and having two banquets, we will start conditioning for track. 

Do you have anything to pass on to those attending, coaches, spectators, athletes? 
I would ask everyone to be careful driving – on and off Sandhills. Remember it cost $5 to park. This money goes to the State High School League. I would ask that coaches, non-competing athletes and parents stay away from the starting line. Everyone needs to stay away from any building or piece of machinery. Coaches need to monitor their athletes during warm-ups. Every year we have minor destruction on the property especially in the corn maze. We are going to provide trash cans this year so please try to use them. 

What goals do you have for the sports in general in this state? 
I just want as many young people as possible to discover the great sports of cross country and track and field. They and our country will be the better for it.