Save the date...April 22, 2017. We will once again be filling Chic Anderson Stadium in Palatine, IL with music, fun, and the finest distance runners from the state of Illinois and the Midwest. The event will feature 32 elite athletes per event in just the 800, 1600, and 3200 meter runs. The Top 16 boys and girls run in The Main Event under the lights at 9:00 pm while the rest compete in The Undercard which begins at 7:00 pm. To expand the opportunity to more athletes, we also offer a freshmen boys 1600, an emerging girls 1600, and a distance medley relay for each gender.
The idea to start an outdoor distance only meet was born from a couple of impulses. As the son of a coach, I am a long-time track lover. I used to chart long jump performances as a youth and have been split timing sprint relays since I could punch a watch. I love track and field. But a creeping thought started to emerge over the last five years that I wasn't having as much fun attending track meets as I should be. Most meets last forever. Since the weather is often awful in Illinois during the early outdoor season, that often produces a dreary mix of tedium and bone-shivering cold. In our zeal to let as many teams and athletes participate as possible, we have also filled the track experience with far too many flights and sections. Track is too often a beautiful beast that feeds upon itself.
A few coaches around Illinois have been experimenting with event specialty meets, and I have never walked away from any of these experiences without feeling the true exhilaration I want to feel for track and field. Look at the roster of specialty meets already offered in Illinois:
- The Windy City Pole Vault Summit
- Fremd Throws Invite
- Batavia Distance Madness
- West Suburban Last Chance meet
- Downers South Mustang Relays
All of these events were ones that we hoped to mimic or even improve upon when Joe Parks and I came up with the idea to do a co-ed, elite distance meet during the outdoor season. At the urging of J.B. Hansen at Lake Zurich, we started a low key co-ed JV last chance meet in the spring of 2015. In about 90 minutes, we ran just the three main distance events - the 800, 1600, and 3200 - along with a co-ed costume 4 x 400 relay to end the night. J.B. had been inspired by a similar meet run by Lyons Township, York, Hinsdale Central, and Downers Grove North that gave non-varsity athletes a final chance to PR under the lights. The results for all of our kids in that meet were spectacular. We performed under the lights in good conditions. We played music before and after the races. We ran the final 1600 meter races through The Gauntlet (thanks Tony Holler!). We focused on the old Al Carius motto of "Run for fun and personal bests." The results were magical. I vividly recall one young girl walking out of the stadium that night exclaiming to her teammate, "I've never had fun at a track meet before, but that was so much fun!" From the mouths of babes...
It was obvious that the same approach would work for the most elite runners. Distance Night in Palatine is an attempt not just to capture the essence of distance running, but also a great sporting experience more generally. We wanted to mold a student-centered experience and produce the kind of meet that a high school student-athlete would want to participate in. We wanted to play music. We wanted to give every athlete a cool piece of gear. We wanted to use the event to promote charitable causes. We wanted to give fans a tight three hour experience of elite racing.
Consider it mission accomplished. We are truly thankful for all of the student-athletes, coaches, and fans who gave a brand new meet a shot. Our plan this year is to keep the same format and same amount of sections, but increase the qualities of each individual field. We hope not just to reach out to more of the best athletes and track programs in Illinois, but to expand beyond our borders to include athletes from throughout the Midwest.
Our goal is to become the premier distance meet of the outdoor track season in the Midwest. Whether you are looking to run a scholarship time, set a PR, or record a seed time, we want to provide that opportunity. Maybe you run for a small school and never get top flight competition. Maybe you are an emerging elite who doesn't have big race experience. Maybe you are already a state champion and want to challenge your limits. All of those outcomes came true last year, and we can't wait to see who puts the fire down on the Palatine track this April.
This meet would not be possible without the generous support of our athletic department and our sponsors. Palatine Athletic Director Jerry Dobbs was gracious enough to allow us to host another meet, and we are especially thankful for the support of Patty Leaf-Burke, Sonnya Lozano, and our outdoor grounds grew. We would also like to thank our sponsors - Dick Pond and New Balance. Nick Hurley at Dick Pond was instrumental in helping us get this event off the ground and in making sure that each athlete got a meet jersey or T-shirt. New Balance provided the meet signage and helped add legitimacy to our event in its first year. We hope to extend each partnership and in turn provide a richer experience for the fans and the athletes.
Last but not least, I would like to thank Special Olympics and all of the parents, teachers, and athletes that made our Special Olympics 800 happen last year. Since Special Olympics is the primary beneficiary of the event, it was natural to highlight the efforts of these athletes. The result was a magical run by our Special Olympians - a great reminder for all our elite athletes that running the race to the best of your ability is the ultimate goal. I would like to thank Jordan Feldman, Area 18 Director for Special Olympics Illinois, for helping us get this event off the ground.
In the end, we here at Palatine High School are so happy to present another opportunity for our great athletes and track fans to celebrate the best distance runners in the Midwest. Let's get excited and make this an even better event than last year! See you all soon.