Coach Mike Mead

Get Back Into Track - March 2004

With the anticipation of the arrival of spring, many runners look forward to incorporating speed into their training. Many runners hit the local track to work on improving their speed, but never go to a track to race or watch a meet. With 2004 being an Olympic year, I hope many of you readers who do not follow the sport will take some time to appreciate Track & Field (also know as Athletics to most of the world) this year and actually watch a meet in person.

Over the past 10-15 years, I’ve gotten a sense that the average runner does not follow track & field, particularly here in the South. Case in point, Atlanta was home to the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships for several years until it moved back to New York City last year because of mediocre fan support.

But this is not just a “Southern Thang” as fewer and fewer track meets are broadcast on television. When meets are on television, they’re usually shown on a tape-delayed basis at some odd time of the day. As a kid, I recall that you could watch a meet almost every weekend during indoor season and watch most of the big outdoor meets live like Penn, Drake and the NCAA’s.

During the early days of ESPN, they not only carried the NCAA Division I meet, but also carried the Division II and Division III championships on a tape-delayed basis. Not to boast, but I was on ESPN in 1980 at the NCAA Division II national meet in California running the 3,000m steeplechase. Two years later, I got to watch some of my former West Georgia College teammates make All-America in the 4 x 100m relay! Now it seems that billiards, poker and dog shows have taken the place of track & field on TV.

But those seem to have been the golden days of television track coverage. Despite the growth of cable TV and the many sports channels, track & field has not nurtured a growing fan base here in the United States. Why? My spin on it is that meets run too long. Since beginning the track program here at Clayton State in 1998, I’ve attended some poorly run meets that have run as much as three hours behind schedule! Yikes!

I rarely attend high school meets because they painfully drag on and on. I’m a coach of the sport! Think about the prospective fans that show up and get turned off by these slow spectacles. Track meets need to be built for speed! Who has time to watch a track meet when they can watch paint dry?

I don’t mean to be ugly, but it is a serious problem. Track should have a larger fan base. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ 2002-03 participation summary, track & field is the second most popular sport behind basketball. Over 15,000 high schools sponsor boys and girls track programs – almost a million boys and girls combined! That figure does not include the college, club and youth-level participants or all you road racers out there. There is a fan base out there. It just needs to be better nurtured!

So this spring, be sure to go out of your way and attend a local high school or college meet. Despite the length of some track meets, there are some nicely run meets out there and you don’t have to stay all day. College meets are particularly run well and have some great competitors. Just in the Atlanta area, there will be four or five meets this spring. Oglethorpe University is hosting an early season outdoor meet on March 6 (8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.), followed by the Morehouse Relays on March 20 and Emory’s annual meet March 26-27 (at Georgia Tech track since Emory’s facility is being renovated). Georgia Tech will be hosting two meets on April 3 and May 14-15. The University of Georgia will also host a couple of meets in Athens on April 10 and May 1.

Do your duty and support track & field this spring. You just might learn a thing or two to improve your own game!