Throughout the track and field postseason, I saw people advocating on Twitter for the IHSA to “fill the lanes” at the state meet.
One of the people leading the charge was Plainfield North coach Tony Holler, a member of the Illinois Track and Field Hall of Fame who has won three state championships and has eight top three finishes.
He tweeted that the IHSA needs to have “at-large berths (4x9 in lane races, 3x12 in long races, 36 qualify per event.”
Basically, if there are four heats of the 100-meter dash and two of the heats only have seven runners on a nine-lane track, then add the next four best runners based on sectional times.
Holler seemed to have plenty of support on social media, so I decided to ask our area coaches what they thought of the idea.
“There are pros and cons to doing this,” La Salle-Peru girls track and field coach John Beatty said. “If you allow marks in that do not hit qualifying, then they will not go to finals anyways. The state meet is about the best in the state in each event competing against each other. If not enough are qualifying in an event, maybe it is the qualifying mark that needs to be changed. The positive would be more athletes would have the chance to compete and some could rise to the level of the competition if given the chance.
“I’m in favor of keeping the standards high to keep a more elite level of competition.”
Other area coaches were in favor of filling out the lanes, including Princeton boys coach Dan Foes and Hall girls coach Nick Hanck.
“Yes, fill the lanes,” Hanck said. “It’s more of an issue for 2A and 3A but it would be nice to see at least 36 qualifiers in each track event.”
Fieldcrest distance coach Carol Bauer wants the IHSA to allow replacements for athletes who scratch.
“I wish the IHSA would have a plan to fill out the lanes,” Bauer said. “Many times you have coaches who will enter athletes in events they don’t intend to run at state in an effort to win a sectional. I totally understand that.
"However, often you take away a spot from a kid who would love a chance to compete, but they did not qualify. I have seen some honor roll meets that have alternates listed so if there is a late scratch the lane can be filled by someone who wants to race. I think most coaches are for the idea to have as many deserving kids as possible compete.”
I’m in favor of filling the lanes.
While I agree with Beatty that the state meet needs to be kept to an elite level, I think in some cases elite runners are being left out.
For example, in the Class 2A girls meet this year, only 22 girls qualified in the 800 meters and in the preliminaries, three heats of seven girls were run.
At an extremely windy La Salle-Peru Sectional, L-P junior Ashley Heagy had to dive over the finish line to narrowly beat Rock Falls’ Erin Porter 2:24.11 to 2:24.21.
By finishing third, Porter missed out on state because the qualifying standard is 2:22.32
Porter’s sectional time ranked 11th and with Heagy advancing to finals and placing fifth, it’s safe to assume Porter also was a potential state medalist.
Had the IHSA filled the lanes by adding the additional 14 runners — which would not have added any extra heats or any additional time to the state preliminaries — a quality runner would have had a chance at a medal.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Kevin Chlum is the NewsTribune Sports Editor. He can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.