Warszawski: State track meet turns some 'truths' on their heads

The Fresno BeeJune 7, 2014 

Track and field is a dying sport.

Kids today are fat and lazy.

These two statements, both vast, sweeping generalizations, are often accepted as truths. Why? Because there are mounds upon mounds of evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, that back them up.

The 96th annual CIF State Track and Field Championships, which concluded Saturday night at Buchanan High, provides the ultimate counter-argument.

If track and field is a dying sport, there wouldn't be 16,372 people, not to mention hundreds of local volunteers, filling Veterans Memorial Stadium during the two-day showcase.

And if all kids today are fat and lazy, well, someone forgot to tell the 950 young men and women on display.

"These kids sure look like they work out," said Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, on hand to watch his son, Kahlil, a junior at De La Salle-Concord, compete in the shot put.

Not just these kids. For every sprinter, hurdler or discus thrower who made it to the state level, there are thousands who didn't.

In California, participation in track remains as robust as ever. During the 2013 season, 55,211 boys and 44,200 girls competed for their respective high schools. Track is the most popular girls sport, edging soccer, and ranks second to football among boys.

Of course, track and field will always have big participation numbers due to the sheer number of events. But that's also one of the sport's biggest charms.

It takes all types to make a track team: stocky, muscular types; thin, sinewy types; long-legged, rangy types; hulking, brawny types.

There's a place for everyone.

"You'll get your little cross country runner, and they're teammates with the big, tough football player," said Andy Leong, the coach at Lowell-San Francisco. "Track is the only sport where that's possible."

The state championships are like a novel packed with drama and tension in every chapter.

Edison appeared to win the gold medal in boys 400 relay, only to lose it when officials ruled the third runner stepped over the lane line after handing off the baton.

Clovis' Connor Morello made up all kinds of ground in the closing meters of the 800 but came up 0.01 seconds short of a state title. Both he and the winner, David Manahan of Harvard Westlake-Studio City, collapsed as they crossed the finish line.

And what can you say about Long Beach Poly's Ariana Washington?

A florescent green blur on the blue Mondo track, Washington dominated the 100, 200 and 400 relay for her eighth career state title (five individual).

The meet's other big star, Stockdale's Blake Haney, failed in his attempt to repeat as state champion in the 1,600 and 3,200. He won the 1,600 easily but couldn't match the pace in the 3,200 and was third.

Not all the action is on the track. In fact, you'll see plenty just walking along the stadium ramps.

In one lap, I spotted track coaches from Stanford, USC, Cal, UC Davis, Sacramento State, Arizona State and Ole Miss.

"This is the best high school state meet that you'll find," said USC assistant Quincy Watts. "The talent and facility here are second to none."

As we were chatting, an older gentleman approached Watts, dressed in cardinal and gold, and muttered something about a kid from Terra Nova-Pacifica who ran a fast 400 qualifying time.

(The kid, junior Jeremy Wright, wound up third in the 400 final.)

"I don't even know that guy, but he came up and gave me a tip," Watts said after the man walked off.

"That's the exciting thing about track and field. Everybody, even fans in the stands, want the kids to have success."

This is the sixth year Clovis Unified School District has hosted the state championships, and it will be here at least through 2017.

I say Clovis Unified because this is very much a district-wide effort. On the berm behind the west end zone, "CUSD" is spelled out in 20-foot tall letters. So they pop at a distance, the green shrubs that form each letter are outlined by silver streamers.

That's the kind of pride Clovis Unified takes in hosting an event that has become both showcase and fundraiser.

According to meet co-director Roger Oraze, a longtime district administrator, profits are divided five ways and given to the track teams at each district high school. Each team typically gets $4,000.

Despite the high 90-degree temperatures both days, tempered by a steady breeze, coaches I spoke with praised the setting and organization.

"You can't beat this facility," Davis coach Spencer Elliott said. "The track is super fast, and when I look at the size of these grandstands it's like, 'Holy smokes.' It just feels like it's built for more than just a high school."

Added Aldo Congi of St. Ignatius-San Francisco, "As far as I'm concerned this could stay here forever."

Time to amend those generalizations that began this column.

Track and field, at least on the high school level, is thriving.

And not all kids today are fat and lazy.

 

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, marekw@fresnobee.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.

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