From the first day I was asked to produce a weekly column, I've tried to seek out topics I find interesting, but also ones that I, or many of you our readers, may not know that much about.
With high school girls track and field sectionals this week and the boys right around the corner, a question came to my mind. The top two finishers in each event at sectionals automatically advance to the state meet, but there are also a few athletes who move on to Charleston via exceeding set qualifying standards.
So, how are these standards calculated for all three classes? Do they change year to year? Has the process changed over the years?
For these answers, I reached out the Kraig Garber, who is the IHSA Assistant Executive Director and administrator for both boys and girls track and field.
"It used to be the advisory committee sitting down and hammering the numbers out, but with eight people in a room trying to determine what the standards should be, that conversation took a long time," said Garber. "My predecessor, Ron McGraw, made the argument of how well this worked for swimming and diving for many years when we brought it to track and field in the last couple of years. It is a more data-driven model based on averages, so the recommendations are made for us."
This spring will be the third year that the current method has been in place. Garber explained that for Class 1A and 3A, the advisory committee takes the 21st-place time, distance or height, from the five previous years' sectionals and comes up with an average. That is the next season's qualifying standard.
For Class 2A it is a little bit different. That is because there are fewer sectionals and fewer participants, so for Class 2A the 16th-place time, distance or height over a three-year span is used to determine an average.
"Sometimes there are anomalies and we see numbers that are way below or way above what they were the previous year, so then we can average in more previous years to get the number we feel is right," said Garber. "Sometimes we look back at the previous year and see that we had way too many qualifiers in an event or that we had too few, and that tells us that the standard may have not been where it should have been, but that is a rarity.
"The committee has faith in the system in place, and so far it has worked very well."
For the sake of simplicity, I'll use the 400-meter run as one example of changes in the qualifying standard from 2017 to 2018. All standards for all events can be accessed on the IHSA website.
Girls 2017 2018
Class 1A 1:02.15 1:02.19
Class 2A 1:00.19 1:00.36
Class 3A :59.28 :59.28
Boys 2017 2018
Class 1A :51.80 :52.01
Class 2A :51.10 :51.05
Class 3A :50.10 :50.16
So as you can see, some times went up, some went down and one stayed the same. I found that to be true in every event in each class across the board.
I have talked to many track and field athletes over the last couple of years, and while most love anytime they can go head-to-head against a very good fellow competitor, most have told me that the bottom line is reaching their next goal of a better time, height or distance. I imagine there is nothing better than finishing one or two in a sectional competition to punch that ticket to the state meet, but with the standards in place, an athlete that is placed in a sectional that is talent-heavy in their event means the athlete doesn't necessarily need to worry about placement, but instead reaching the set standard to still reach that main goal of a state berth.
"Across the board and over time, we have seen significant changes to the standards, but that is because the kids are increasing the bar each and every year, it seems," said Garber, who added the numbers are crunched in August, with the committee meeting in early September to finalize the standards. "There is always the question of, 'When is this going to stop or hit a point when it can't get any better?'
"We have yet to see that, and that is because the kids are doing some outstanding things."