Tully Runners - Article
A View from the Press Box at the NY State Track & Field Championships
by Bill Meylan (Tully Runners Webmaster)
(draft: June 11, 2001)
On Thursday June 7, 2001, I drove to Long Island for the first time. The New York State high school track & field championships would begin on Friday and continue through Saturday at the Mitchel Athletic Complex near the Nassau County Coliseum, and I wanted to cover the event for my web-site. Five girls from Tully would be competing along with many other fine athletes from Section 3 and top athletes from around the state. As a very special bonus, the meet director provided me with a press credential and a press pass for the event.
The Mitchel Athletic Complex was the host site of the 1998 Goodwill Games for track & field and soccer. Jackie Joyner-Kersee ran her last heptathlon at the track winning a gold medal. It is an excellent facility that hosts many events including games of a women's professional soccer team (NY Power) and various top track & field meets. It is a good site for the State Championships. The press box has an excellent view of the track ... I took nearly 20 photos of the meet directly from the press box. It is designed to accommodate news reporters ... half a dozen separate rooms have continuous bench space along the windows with numerous electrical outlets for computers. In addition, each room has several telephone outlets for plugging in telephones or computer modems. Most reporters attending the State meet brought laptop computers (including me) ... several also brought telephones. About half of the telephone outlets did not work initially, but stadium officials got them working Friday night in time to e-mail stories to newspapers before approaching deadlines. The weather was much warmer than expected, and the press box was air-conditioned. To be honest, I was in heaven when I set-up my laptop and camera in the press box at noon on Friday ... this was going to be the most enjoyable meet I ever covered ... I had a great view and a working computer ... I also had absolutely no idea of the amount of work and effort in front of me (and yes, it is self-imposed) ... if I did, I would have bagged most of my plans and simply watched the meet as a typical fan.
True confession: building and updating my web-site is an obsession. Improvements are always possible ... there will always be something new and better to add ... I need to make the web-site more usable for myself; if it is, then visitors may find it more useful. As an example, I began posting photos during the indoor track season ... various people (such as college coaches) thought it would be a good addition, so I am doing it even though it is very time-intensive. I enjoy taking photos, but it takes a lot of time to post them on the Internet with descriptive captions. My plans for the State meet coverage were pretty simple ... with a working computer in front of me, I could write detailed descriptions of many races with illustrating photos (including split times, etc) ... I want to provide "original content" data not available from other sources. I do not want my site to be a "results central" ... Armory Track and the Section III web-site do this very well, so there is no need or desire on my part to do it ... however, in track, showing the basic results is almost essential when describing a race; therefore, I need to post some basic results.
Being in the press box gave me the opportunity to meet many reporters from different newspapers around the state. It was a great learning experience ... most reporters have common objectives and requirements. The objective is to cover the meet with focus on their local area athletes. Basic requirements are (1) areas to set-up and use laptop computers, (2) ability to e-mail or phone stories to newspapers in a timely manner (preferably e-mail), and (3) have access to area athletes for interviews. For a track meet, an additional requirement is readily available results of the events. This became obvious early in the meet when no results were available in the press box. Meet officials corrected this quickly ... results of individual events were copied and distributed in the press box and posted downstairs for all fans to see. However, a few results never made it to the press box.
This is essential: ... most athletes and fans want results (places, times, distances, etc). The results distributed to reporters were in written form. Reporters had to type the results into their computers ... I did this myself and it is incredibly time-consuming with so many different class and federation events ... I spent so much time typing basic results into my computer that I missed several events I wanted to see. This was a problem for all reporters. As one reporter stated late Friday night, "readers think these results just magically appear, but they don't". I have the results sheets for most of the meet ... the stack is just over half an inch thick! Any results that appeared in newspapers were hand-typed ... that's why most papers print only the winner of events and the local finishers. Electronic forms of the results were available ... they were posted on the Armory Track site at about 11:30 PM on Friday night (well past newspaper deadlines) ... but they were not available to the press box during the meet - I asked. It would be incredibly helpful if electronic results were sent to the press box after each race. Sufficient written result sheets were not available to all reporters who wanted them ... some reporters were told to get results from Armory Track ... from a reporter's point of view who is sent a long distance to cover an event and has a deadline, this is very un-helpful (why bother coming to the meet). Now I am not criticizing the local officials ... the officials in the press box were very accommodating and helpful ... this is an organizational consideration. If you want your event covered in any detail, you should try to help the reporters. Sports that do this will get better coverage than sports that don't.
With regards to track meet results, the name "Pat Leone" was mentioned by the Watertown reporter and what a wonderful service he provides to Section 3 newspapers and fans ... Pat does the FAT timing and results for various section 3 meets ... not only does Pat post results on the Internet, he sends usable electronic results directly to newspapers ... this should be mandatory for any state championship. Even the Post Standard, who did not send a reporter to the meet (that I know of), could have printed results (either complete or locally oriented) both Saturday and Sunday morning. From a track reporter's point of view, this is a godsend. Reporters could spend more time interviewing athletes and coaches, watching the events and trying to interpret the class, merged, or Federation results (or the correction sheets of results already posted and awarded).
I have already been criticized by some local people for not posting more "class specific" results for events run in Federation format (events where class A, B and C/D athletes were combined). For these events, the press box did not receive any class specific results ... they were only announced at the awards stands, and official results were not distributed during the meet. As explained by meet officials, these events were specifically contested as Federation championship events, and there was only one winner of each event (the person or team that finished first overall). The individual class winners were separated out at the awards stands only for the purpose of giving awards.
On Friday night, I didn't leave the press box until 9:45 PM. Many newspaper reporters were there much later. After some additional work at the hotel, I posted the Friday results to my web-site. In retrospect, it would have been useful to post on-going results directly from the press box every couple of hours (so I did it on Saturday). I wanted to post some photos, but there just wasn't any time to do it until returning to Tully. I learned a lesson on Friday ... the races were going off rapidly (even with some slight delays) ... there simply is not enough time for one individual to type extensive results, watch races carefully and take notes, take and prepare photos, and develop web-pages during the course of the meet. It became necessary to focus on specific running events (such as the girls 3000m and boys 3200m) and type only the basic results of other events. So I typed and typed and typed ... I missed watching some races and saw virtually no field events. I talked to the Tully people and Coach Franklin only briefly on Friday ... on Saturday, I never had a chance to talk to them personally.
I was in the press box at 8:15 Saturday morning and spent over an hour preparing a web-page and computer note sheet for the upcoming races. The only good about arriving early was seeing the NY Power soccer team and having a chance to say hello to some women from 2000 US Olympic Soccer Team. After the track meet started at 10am, the result sheets began arriving in the press box and I typed and typed and typed. There was a scheduled break between 12:30 and 1:00 ... that gave me an opportunity to catch up, so I typed and typed and typed. I was able to watch many races, but it was necessary to be selective about which races to watch. Identifying runners was something of a challenge ... each athlete was given a number to pin on their chest and back ... the press box did not have a corresponding list of numbers and names, so the numbers were useless except for section identification ... fortunately, reporters from different regions were able to provide many names. I left the press box and started back to Tully as the last relay race was beginning (about 4:45 PM) ... I was relieved the meet was over!
Being in the press box for this first time was a great experience ... I am really glad the opportunity was available. But reflecting back, the experience was not particularly enjoyable ... I don't mind periods of long continuous work, but the degree must justify the end results. Talking to real track & field newspaper reporters was pleasant and informative. People that complain about newspaper coverage of track & field need to see behind-the-scenes ... most of the time, the problem is not the newspaper.
What do I remember about my "view from the press box"? I remember typing and typing and typing. I remember the long gazelle-like stride of Molly Huddle (Elmira Notre Dame) in winning the 1500m and 3000m ... and the complimentary comments of reporters seeing her for the first time. I remember the outstanding performances of the Section 3 girl distance runners (Laurel Burdick, Jackie Kosakowski, Lia Cross, Vanessa Everding and Lauren Heron). I remember typing and typing and typing. I remember Mike Allen (Mt Markham) opening a big early lead in the Class C/D 800m and his impressive victory. I remember typing and typing and typing. I remember the press box pausing collectively to watch Dan Olson (Albany Academy) attempt a State record in the high jump (7' 3"). I remember typing and missing many events taking place right in front of me. And I remember the complaints that began appearing as soon as I got back to central NY.