It's Illinois Top Times Week, man I'm hyped!! Oh wait, we have a problem, there's NO Top Times meet this year due to the coronavirus. This is the week I look forward to as I'm usually writing and asking my yearly question in the 'Who's The Man or Woman?' segment. It's where I give a preview on the upcoming Top Times meets.
I and my guys from Milesplit Illinois always look forward to this weekend, because it's the one time we're all together at the hotel after the 1A portion of the meet. We take a quick trip to Fazzoli's for food and later let the laughing, debating, and discussing track and field begin. It's funny nothing else is discussed until the early morning hours. I don't know how we make it through the next day without sleeping. OK a couple of years ago I did fall asleep and that was with "The Voice" of track and field Matt Piescinski announcing next to me. 2018 was also the year it snowed like crazy and thundered at the same time, and athletes couldn't make it to the meet. Hopefully next year we'll pick right back up, but the one thing the virus has shown everybody is that nothing is promised.
The 2020 Indoor season became the year when the so-called "PRESEASON" became "THE SEASON." If you didn't run the club circuit or competed unattached you were shortchanged, and even if you did there were meets that were canceled. But you at least got lathered up.
It's funny to me you never heard of the term preseason in this state until a few years ago. A few upset school coaches statewide complained about the meets and the term came out of nowhere. I thought about it on my way to work (yes, I guess I'm essential).
Track and field is actually backward as far as high school in IL when compared to other sports. The NBA has it's preseason, the stars rarely touch the court and when they do it' only for a few minutes for fear of injury in a meaningless game. The guys who are on the bench, rookies and free agents are fighting to remain or make the team are the ones you see playing the most.
In the NFL, the preseason is for rookies, undrafted free agents, and lower draft picks as they try to avoid turning in their playbook and make the team. In the last couple of games, the starters play a series or two and they're done. But in high school track, it's the opposite. When those good to great athletes go to either Texas A&M, Arkansas or Indiana's so-called "preseason meets," they aren't facing the lower-tier athletes like the NBA or NFL fields in their preseason. They don't face athletes who aren't in shape or 'Lil Jimmy' whose just on the team- it's the total opposite.
In most cases and events they're facing some of the best ranked national athletes in the country. And they're doing it on the fastest tracks and in the best facilities in the country. The amount of pressure is at a whole different level than the school season. The athletes one faces has real committed coaching, family has spent money traveling and the competition can do exactly what you do on the track. When you get a chance go through the indoor rankings boys and girls & look at the number of people who are ranked in the top ten who ran in the so-called "pre-season meets" And a lot of them never improved once the school season started.
One only has to look back at the great sprinter Marcellus Moore's high school career who is currently at Purdue University. The former Plainfield North superstar never had a tough race until he left the state boundaries. The only time you would see him in a close race or lose would be at UK HS Invite, New Balance Nationals, and a few others. Because he would face the best, and those are the type of meets that prepare you for college. The guys Marcellus was facing last year already had their bags packed and were in Albuquerque for the NCAA Indoor Championships before the virus canceled it.
I remember several years ago I had one of the top sprinters in the state who was going to all the " preseason meets" and winning. And he was concerned about Top Times being tough only because he was injured and he knew a target was on his back. "The Voice" will put you on the spot when he introduces you at the state's premier indoor tilt. He will actually say "he's coming in with a leading time of... run at... well that separates you immediately from your competition, one they didn't go to any meets like that, they were reading about you while you were running fast, and last while they were practicing and running in the Down the Street Invite" you faced the best in the country and are lathered up.
I looked at my athlete as I was driving down the highway and said: "Who in the state, even in the final is ranked in the Top 25-50 in the U.S.?" He said 'nobody' I then said 'who faced the national pressure you have?' He said "nobody," I said "Game Over." We execute, it's over! They'll panic the moment you take a practice start. Did he win it? Yep!
The meets with that term has college coaches sitting there waiting to recruit with a watchful eye. The senior class can close the deal on signing or perhaps even a scholarship or frankly be noticed for the first time. The junior has already started their "breakout" season before the school season even starts. An athlete can come in with a national name worse case ranked in IL while his teammates and others who haven't had a school meet are nervous, trying to find their footing or is fighting hate from a coach who won't put them in their event.
Don't say it doesn't happen, because it just did to a freshman who was the fastest on the team in three events but could never quite get in his events or face the desired competition. He was already ranked in the state in an event and only had one preseason meet. When the team found out, they're confused, how is he running out of state and we haven't had any meets, and he's ranked and a freshman? Now the whole team wants to know how he did it, who he runs for, and how are you in shape and you have been hurt? And, we're only doing flying 10s and 20s in practice? How?
As I told one of my great sprinters in 2004-05 nicknamed "Shrek", 'Son perception is everything!' When we go to these meets because nobody else in the state even attempts to go to these meets. It is perceived you must be the best from the state. I remember when he went to Nationals Scholastic Indoor Championships (currently NBNO). Ian the announcer said "and all the way from Illinois in lane four! People lost their minds because nobody from the land of Lincoln had ever come there, especially a sophomore. Oh, there was no freshman, or Emerging Elite Divisions then. It's either the championship division or stay home.
The meets may have saved one of my athletes. She wasn't running the way I know she could. There was pressure as all the colleges said: "let's see what she does indoor season." Things did not go the way we thought, but she did go to Arkansas Invite and ran pretty good, even made a final. She signed her letter of intent hours before my son and a lot of others were getting texts from their colleges saying the virus has shut us down for the year. She may not think about it, but what if she hadn't signed and was waiting to give them the show outdoors? Well, there is no outdoor as of now, no practice, no coaching, nothing. The nightmare movie continues, and hopefully one day soon it' over.
In 2020 indoor season, If I was a parent, coach or athlete after the drama the virus has caused this indoor season ruining athlete's dreams and goals, putting them in unthought-of situations. I'd take a serious look at the so-called "preseason meets." It just might be The Only Season You Get.
Everybody stay safe and be smart. This Too Will Pass...