As we count down to the beginning of registration on February 15th, we would like to highlight the many incredible moments, experiences, and performances had at last year’s edition of the meet. Our meet will be held again this year at Chic Anderson Stadium in Palatine, IL on Saturday night, April 20. Community races begin at 6:20 pm while high school races begin at 7:00 pm.
What should a meet for high school kids look like?
As an AP English Language and Composition teacher, I am loath to start with a rhetorical question. But in the case of track and field, I think we are crazy if we don’t ask it. And, in my humble opinion, we don’t ask this question near enough.
I was born and bred to be a track and field fan. My dad, Jeff Quick, coached cross country and track at Geneseo and Moline High Schools for more than 30 years. My family spent an inordinate amount of time travelling all over the Midwest to watch track meets. I got to see so many of the great track meets growing up. I grew up in a family that valued all aspects of the sport - from the sheer power of a great shot putter, to the zaniness of all champion pole vaulters, to the incredible speed and relaxation of a top sprinter.
But I’ve got to be honest…high school track meets are some of the most boring sporting events I have ever attended. And if I - who was raised on the sport - feel that way, then what are neophyte athletes and supportive parents thinking when they attend a six hour track meet? Sometimes I look at parents and athletes in the stands and wonder just what they are thinking. Are they entertained? Informed? Excited? I think the honest answer is that most fans only attend to watch their kids (rather than the event as a whole) and that most athletes are interminably bored both before and after their events.
So beyond our charitable mission to raise money for Special Olympics, we set a goal to make a track meet for the kids and for the fans. The expected attention span for an American sports fan is around 3 hours - think any football, basketball, baseball, or soccer game. Fans and athletes also want to know the score and the potential match-ups. They want to look ahead to the thrilling finish in the 4th quarter, the exciting fight at the end of the card, or to the Kentucky Derby at the end of a day of races. A great event should build and be in keeping with norms for how long a sports fan wants to pay attention.
But at the high school level, that is not enough for the kids. What do kids want? They surely want to run fast, face great competition, and set PRs. But they want something more social, more memorable. So our goal is to try to make that happen. We run Costume Relay 4 x 400s at the end of the night because…well, why not? It’s stupid and fun and so is high school. With the help of Nick Hurley at Dick Pond, we made an Interview tent. For who exactly? It’s not like ESPN is going to show up with a camera crew. But kids hang out in there all night and take pictures and videos after their races. They dance to the music and meet new people.
In our second year, we started a tradition of having our junior and senior boys cover the event as the #FIBOnews crew. Aidan Busch (now of Wheaton College) and Sam Gordon (now of Purdue) were our first news crew. Last year, they handed off the reigns to Will Escudero, Malcolm Filichia, Shamoun Daudi, Shrey Parikh, Guilherme Deghi, and Zach Cherian. Or as they were better known…Yung Snacky, Chip Chapley, Cloudy Daudi, Peprika Parikh, G-Baby, and whatever they called Zach. They filmed interviews with the winners, asked inane questions, and found an excuse to dress up in suits and ties while using Gatorade bottles as microphones. We sent it all out on social media and had a blast.
We tried more. We set up a wedding style photo booth with props and sat it on the infield with the homecoming chairs we use to crown our King and Queen each fall. No one even used it. Oh well. We asked kids on Twitter what music they wanted to be played during the races. We even listened to and included ones in our playlist that weren’t too filthy. We were sad that Katelynne Hart ran one of the fastest times high school times in the history of the United States for 3200 meters that morning at her home Sue Pariseau Invite rather than at our meet. But we were thrilled that she came out to watch our meet and got asked to prom by Danny Kilrea of Lyons Township.
So once again, it begs the question…what should a meet for high school kids look like? Or even better…what could one look like? I think that meets are created for officials and coaches. Rarely, do we ever wonder what a meet would look like if it were made for kids and for fans. It wasn’t that hard to set up a video screen to post results immediately. It wasn’t that hard to run off a heat sheet for all attendees and give out a free program. It wasn’t that hard to play music during the races and make sure the songs were what kids wanted. It wasn’t that hard to make a tight three hour meet that would feature great race after great race.
So let’s promise to try and do better for our sport. We can especially do better for our audience. To bring this full circle, that’s what we talk about in my AP English class. What is a writer’s job except to serve something interesting and engaging for the audience? Why don’t we consider our audience more when we are designing a track and field event? We can do better. If you don’t think so, come out and watch Distance Night 2019. We promise to set fire to the track and have fun while doing it.
Grace Mayer and the Power of Special Olympics
Let’s start with our founding mission. We wanted to create an elite track meet centered around fast times, fun, and charity. There is no better partner in that mission than Special Olympics. Last year we did $4,400 in donations at the door for Special Olympics and delivered a $2,800 check after our expenses. To date, we have donated $1,800, $2,000 and $2,800 for a total of $6,600. It might be improbable, but our goal this year is to get that number to $10,000. We will have to fill the stadium to do it, but that is our goal.
In between our two sessions each year, we offer a Special Olympics 800 meter race. It is our opportunity to highlight that running fast might seem most important, but really what we are after is the best that each of us has to give. We are happy to provide a showcase race for our area Special Olympians. Palatine’s own Brandon Waller placed third last year in 2:30 and the race itself was won in 2:24, which is pretty blazing. I want to highlight a different story though.
Grace Mayer has been a dedicated member of the Lyons Township girls cross country team for the past couple of years. She was on the team this year when they placed 4th in the state and was fortunate to contribute to their 3rd place trophy team in 2017. Grace also has cerebral palsy - just like my brother Chad. And while Chad’s CP has confined him to a wheelchair throughout his life, Grace can run. And run she did. She got to ride the bus with LT’s elite kids. She got to put on her spikes under the lights and race with the best. And she ran her fastest 800 ever. How much better can it get?
If you have Special Olympians on your track roster or in your school, let’s think of them first for this Distance Night. Their entries are free, and every Special Olympian gets a complimentary T-shirt. Even better, for one night, they run on equal footing with some of the fastest athletes in the Midwest. To enter an athlete, e-mail their name and grade to Chris Quick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s make this year’s Special Olympics 800 the best yet!