There is an easy solution to the mess that the State track meet has become.

Last week, I did a column in which I complained about the State Track Meet. I pointed out that it has simply outgrown the venue, rendering parking and navigation virtually hopeless. With all six classes (1-6A) competing at the same place on the same days, the meet has just become too big.

I have to believe that the vast majority of people who attend the event would like to see some tweaks. People have driven hours to get there— in many cases to watch one single event that might be over in less than a minute.

To do that, they will cruise the parking areas in hopes of finding a close-in spot. Most likely, they will end up parking far enough away from the stadium that they could qualify for a hiking merit badge in order to get back there. Then, when they finally reach the stadium, they get to stand in a deep line for the restroom after somehow negotiating the labyrinthian pattern they have established for pedestrian crowd control.

And then pay $3 for an iced tea and $5 for a funnel cake (toppings extra). But that’s another issue.

Anyhoo, just take my word for it that the Kansas State Track Meet has become the poster child for unnecessary inconvenience. I mean, we live in KANSAS! If we wanted to live someplace defined by congestion and inconvenience and traffic jams, we’d move to New Jersey. One of the few perks of living in Kansas is, we don’t normally have to be unnecessarily inconvenienced by overcrowded congestion— unless we attend the State Track Meet. Then we get to see how the other 99% live.

You notice I say “unnecessarily inconvenienced” because there is an easy solution to the problem that will alleviate much of the aggravation associated with the event, yet still retain much of the “flavor” that people have come to expect at the Meet.

My knee-jerk solution was to just split the thing up and have six separate State track meets at separate venues. However, that solution would be unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. First of all, you might not be able to get five additional venues to agree to host a State track meet. There would be challenges with getting competent help at six venues, finding enough people who know what they’re doing to run six separate State meets. And, I will give them this, the people who currently run the State meet know what they’re doing.

The meet runs pretty smoothly, especially considering the immenseness of the event. Some of the “amenities” at Cessna Stadium would be hard to duplicate at five elsewheres: The electronic timing; the video board that shows images not just of races in progress, but also of field events progressing outside the stadium; the instantaneous read-out of race results; and, not the least important, winners get to mount an impressive medal stand and face a large crowd who see them getting their medals. In short, the way the State Meet is now, it’s a pretty “big deal”.

Kids who compete there, even if they don’t win, get to realize that they have accomplished something by getting there. And if they do win or place, they get to be recognized and acknowledged by tens of thousands of people. I would hate to see the State meet reduced in stature by making it “just another track meet”, which is what it would seem like if you split it up six ways.

I believe this to be true because of comments I read in area newspapers from participants, especially from rural schools, who expressed appreciation at getting to perform in front of gigantic crowds— something they do not get to do during the regular season. I wouldn’t want to take that opportunity away from the athletes— the chance to perform on the big stage.

Also, I talked with John Stineman, local golfing legend and veteran track meet starter. Stineman started the State track meet for decades, and told me about one year when the Cessna Stadium track was being refurbished so the meet was farmed out to several various venues. “It just didn’t have the ‘feel’ of a State track meet,” Stineman said.

So how do we keep the “feel” of the State track meet and still reduce the aggravation for attendees? I think I have the solution.

Currently, the meet spans two days, basically with prelims on Friday and finals on Saturday. What if we changed the schedule to two one-day meets: 1,2,3A on Friday and 4,5,6A on Saturday?

You would immediately cut the aggravation in half because instead of everyone needing to be there both days, you would only have half of them needing to be there each day.

It would still have the “feel” of a State track meet because even a crowd half the size it is now would still be impressive. You would only need the same workers they have now, working the same amount (two days worth.) Schools could save money by not having two days of transportation costs, meal costs and lodging costs. Everyone would still get the “amenities” like electronic timing and the video board.

You could do prelims in the morning and finals in the afternoon/evening. Get the thing done in one day. Another advantage for most spectators would be that there would only be six two-miles and six 4x800s to sit through rather than the current twelve (sorry, Kathy.)

The only thing I can see that this would change is that competitors would not get as much rest between events as they currently do with the meet being spread out over two days. Well, why SHOULD they get more rest at the State meet than they do during a regular season meet? At the State basketball tournament, do they give them extended breaks at the quarters or halftime? Did they take longer breaks between innings at the State softball tournament last week?

And anyway, they would get a little more rest than usual since there would be three classes competing. I don’t think the “athletes rest” issue is enough to outweigh the increase in convenience to EVERYONE that would come from splitting the State meet into two one-day events.