Coach editorial: The push for indoor track

Submitted by Ed Boehmke

This editorial is written by Ed Boehmke, the Cross Country and Track Coach at Eastside High School in Taylors.  Coach Boehmke has coached for 34 years and is a member of the SCTCCCA Hall of Fame and the USATF/SC Hall of Fame.  He has served in every elected office of the SCTCCCA. He is a long time meet director of such events as the Furman Invitational, Coaches Classic (T&F and XC), the NCAA National XC Championships and the State Championships in Track and XC.  He works tirelessly to promote track, cross country and road racing around the state.  The views expressed are strictly his views and not those of  scrunners, MileSplit or the SCTCCCA or the coaches it represents.

Since my running days at Furman, I have been fascinated by running on the oval of an indoor track.  The short fast races, the quick tight turns, the sound of the starter’s pistol echoing off the walls and ceiling, and the opportunity to compete during the winter months was an exciting time in my life.  When I started coaching, I wanted my athletes to have the same experiences, so I would take many of them off to Knoxville or Clemson or Johnson City or anywhere close where other high school athletes would compete against us.  The idea of new, indoor school records, traveling to new cities in a different venue, and much better performances in May brought many athletes out for track and field that may never have come out before.  But rules in South Carolina were either changed or more strictly enforced and the opportunities to do these meets started slipping away.  

The South Carolina Track and Cross Country Coaches Association (SCTCCCA) is a group of high school coaches dedicated to improving the sports of Cross Country and Track & Field in our state.  The group was organized back in the 1960’s and has made lots of changes and recommended many improvements, such as rule changes, qualifying procedures, etc. to the S.C. High School League (SCHSL) who governs all of the sports in the state.  

The SCTCCCA has for years been trying to get the sport of indoor track and field sanctioned as a sport in the state.  Almost every year in the past 10 years, a proposal has been brought before the body and after some discussion has always been unanimously approved and our president has sent it to the SCHSL for approval.  In 2011, the same thing occurred and the SCHSL asked for us to get approval from school principals at their Spring Conference, who ultimately make the decisions in the SCHSL.  

Bob Jenkins, a past president of the SCTCCCA and a tireless supporter of indoor track, went to every classification meeting and left with 82 positive votes.  But the, vote met deaf ears when it went before the Activities committee of the SCHSL.

This year we are again trying to get the sport sanctioned.  The SCTCCCA has sent letters to each of the classification presidents who were supposed to send it out to the principals and athletic directors of every member school.  Each track coach in the state was also sent the same letters with the directive of talking to their principals and AD’s before the Spring Conference and convenience them to either vote favorably or to at least not vote so that the voting would be positive.

We are asking for the following:
Start date after the state football championships
Last date (State finals) – Second or third Saturday in February
Maximum of six meets before state meet with no scrimmages
Contest the usual events approved by the National Federation

We are modeling our format after the one that is very successfully used by North Carolina.  This winter, North Carolina had over 300 “Polar Bear” meets held around the state and then had their State Championships at the only indoor track in the state.  A “Polar Bear” meet is one that runs the indoor distances, but on an outdoor track!  It works well for them and usually the weather in N.C. is colder than in S.C..

Obviously, there are pros and cons to the having indoor track as a sanctioned sport.  John Jones, the head track coach at Spring Valley has taken more athletes to more indoor meets than any other coach in the state.  He has sent a letter to all coaches trying to get them to talk to their principals and AD’s with the following as great reasons to have the sport.

1) Winter has the fewest sports and the fewest number of athletes by far of our three seasons.

2) National and state focus has been aimed at after- school activities as a way to keep youth off the street and in positive programs. In-season athletes do better academically and have fewer discipline issues.

3) We have a national epidemic of obesity.
4) Females have fewer opportunities to participate in the winter. In the winter they have only girls’ basketball and this has a very limited number of slots.

5) Track is a minority dominated sport. After school programs with positive mentors is vital to our society.

6) Running is a lifetime activity and Indoor Track is a great conditioner for Football and all Spring Sports.

7) For our top athletes, Indoor Track would level the playing field with all of the other states that now have Indoor Track and are beating our athletes out for scholarship money. (N.C. has had over 350 Indoor track meets
 already this year. Over a 4 year period that is just too much extra competition for our athletes to overcome.)

The cons we keep hearing from some AD’s/Principals are:
1) Money for coaching supplements and transportation.  Most coaches that want indoor track are already out in December and January doing conditioning and technique work with the SCHSL allowed two athletes a day.  I would venture to say that all of them would coach the sport with no additional supplement.  Travel will cost a small amount, but there is not a school in the state that is not more than 25 miles from another school that they could compete with and get some qualifying performances for a state meet.  There will be NO extra money for equipment or uniforms, because every school already has them.  And these reasons did not stop the SCHSL from adding lacrosse a few years back!

2) A facility to host a championship meet – Initially, the SCTCCCA said that we did not want to have a team state championship.  Hopefully this would allow team A to have a team and team B to not have the pressure to have a team simply because team A did.  Rules in the SCHSL may not allow this so an individual State Championship would suffice.  But where to have it?  Clemson has already agreed to work with the SCTCCCA to host a state championship in their track specific indoor facility in February as well as open the doors to a few of their invitationals to high school events!
3) The weather – Come on!  We are already out in January and February, as are all of the other spring sports.

The National Federation of High School Sports reports on their website that outdoor track and field is the MOST popular participation sport for girls and the second most for boys in the country!  Cross Country is seventh for boys and sixth for girls.  Twenty-one states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia have indoor track, including our neighboring states of North Carolina and Tennessee.  Indoor performances, as well as the ability to work with coaches on improving technique would help our athletes be in a better college recruiting situation.

What can you, the passionate readers of SCRunners and supporters of track and field, do?  The Spring Conference is next week, March 7-10.  SO before your athletic director and principal leave for Charleston, contact your track coaches, AD’s and principals and encourage them to read the letters that have been sent out or print this out and show them.  Encourage them to consider the huge advantages of having this sport for the good of the school and the student athletes that the school has.  And even if they are against having the sport at their school, at least encourage them to NOT vote against the proposal and give those of us that want the sport to have the opportunity to have it.