KEEPING TRACK

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KEEPING TRACK

Written by Rod O’Donnell on 28 April 2012.

It has been said that, “You only go around once in life.” This month’s article will highlight three opportunities that came about and were not taken advantage of, thus negatively affecting the sport of track and field and the health of today’s youth.

 

First, let’s examine the physical education situation in our schools. It is a fact that regular exercise promotes better health, especially heart health. Along with a healthy diet, HDL (good cholesterol) increases, and LDL (bad cholesterol) is lowered; however, today we see more schools in Ohio and elsewhere eliminating p. e. programs. Administrators and school boards do not understand that fit, healthy kids will perform better academically and will achieve higher scores on the many standardized tests that today seem to have a great influence on many things, including school funding.

According to a panel appointed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, children as young as nine years old should be screened for cholesterol and Type II diabetes. This is backed up by the following facts: By the fourth grade, 10-13% of U.S. children have high cholesterol. One half of children with high cholesterol will also have it as adults. One third of U. S. children and teens are obese or over weight, which makes high cholesterol and diabetes more likely. This information was found in an Associated Press article that appeared in newspapers nationwide. In addition, the article went on to quote Dr. Elaine Urbina, Director of Preventive Cardiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, who said, “If we screen at 20, it may be already too late.”

Knowing the benefits of physical exercise, its impact on cardiovascular health, and the current, “No Child Left Behind” movement, has there ever been a better time to demand that regular physical education should be included in the daily curriculum for students in grades K-12?

Staying with the theme of taking advantage of opportunities, one such situation was lost in the late 70’s. It could possibly have changed the sport of track and field in one region of the country in a dramatic way. Unfortunately, this incredible opportunity to help our sport slipped away.

On November 28, 1976, an article appeared in the Charleston Gazette. It began with this quote by Dr. Don Cohen, a Charleston, West Virginia, optometrist and a leader in the campaign to establish a track and field Hall of Fame. “We’re sending a message to the world that the National Track and Field Hall of Fame is located in West Virginia.” The article goes on to describe the scene that took place on a hill along I-64 in Putnam County, W. Va. Cohen, Governor Arch Moore, and Olympic great Jesse Owens participated in a formal groundbreaking. Joining this trio were other track and field greats, Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner and World Record Holder Dwight Stones, 28 winners from the 1976 Olympic Games, and a dozen former medalists representing teams from 1928 to 1972. The complex was to include exhibits, a library, an auditorium, an indoor track, an outdoor track, a dedicated cross-country course, and a residence hall for visiting athletes.

Unfortunately, the dream never became reality because of a change in governors. When the new state leader was elected, his administration did not have the foresight to see the economical, social and educational benefits of the HOF, and they dropped the plan. Sadly, the only reminder that remained for several years along the interstate highway were the poles displaying the American, State, and Olympic flags, that stood on the lonely hillside that once held such great promise.

At the time, I served as the head track coach at nearby Marshall University, and I can remember being excited about Dr. Cohen’s dream. Today, I am sure had that dream become reality, Marshall and West Virginia University would not have dropped their men’s track programs, the state would have hosted national and international meets, and quite possibly developed into the “Track Town” of the East.

The Mid-American Conference provides another example of a missed opportunity. The magnitude of this snafu was a major contributing reason that several schools discontinued their men’s track programs.

In the late ‘80’s, the MAC decided to designate several sports that each school would be required to sponsor in order to maintain membership in the conference. On the women’s side, volleyball, basketball, and softball were chosen. Naturally, football and basketball were two of the three mandated sports for men. Baseball or track was to be the third protected sport.

The baseball coaches, led by Central Michigan Athletic Director and former Chippewa Head Coach Dave Keilitz, became pro-active, selling their respective college presidents and athletic directors on making their sport the third one to be mandated. In addition, their alumni who included many present-day or former major players became involved in lobbying for the decision.

In contrast, the track coaches continued to discuss the comparatively small issues, such as the importance of using metric measurements when recording marks in the field events and basically chose to ignore the huge issue being discussed by the MAC. As the head track coach at Kent State at the time, I would continually try to stimulate discussion by our coaches, but it apparently was not considered important enough to follow the path of the baseball group. We now know the results of this passive attitude by the track community.

Baseball is still sponsored by every institution, and track is fighting to stay alive after Western Michigan, Ball State, Toledo, Bowling Green, and Ohio University dropped their programs, with little hope of reinstatement. I don’t know whether it was a false sense of security, arrogance or ignorance on the part of the coaches that served as the reason for the lack of action; however, I do know that all the administrators who are guilty of discontinuing our sport would not have had that option if an aggressive campaign would have been established, by those stakeholders of the sport; therefore, the MAC’s rich history of All-Americans, national champions, and countless educational opportunities for minorities would not have been all but forgotten.

Unfortunately, today we continue to see many programs that feel it will not happen to them. They continue to damage the sport and fail to aggressively change their approach as to how the sport is presented to the public.

The dominoes continue to fall, with the University of Maryland and Fresno State becoming the latest victims. Apparently, many do not agree that “You only go around once,” and you must capitalize on opportunities if you want to survive.

Yours in track,

Rod O’Donnell

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