Andy Hecker, the Nordstrom of meet directors

You’ve heard of the legendary service of Nordstrom, where sales reps do anything short of murder to please their customers. In masters track, Andy Hecker is the Nordstrom of meets directors. This morning, against all odds, he brought off a track meet at Huntington Beach High School south of Los Angeles that was doomed from the start.

Huntington Beach — along with much of Southern California — was Seattle South today as some of the worst drenchings in recent memory flooded streets, triggered mudslides and even spawned tornadoes (called water spouts) that made landfall in Huntington Beach itself.
And yet Huntington Beach HS coach Tony DiMarco and Hecker offered a “rain or shine” meet that had both. Somehow, Hecker also managed to avoid taking a financial bath.
I didn’t witness the meet (having skipped it to avoid wrinkling my tender skin, and to share the California kitsch of Movieland Wax Museum with my teen-age son up the road in Buena Park). But Hecker described it to me over pizza after measuring shot tosses of Karen Vaughn, the last competitor.
Hecker went beyond the call of duty first by setting up a hand-made railing of PVC pipe just inside lane 1 around the entire track — 257 pieces of tubing connected with those plumber connector thingees. That made the meet record-ready should one occur. It also was an experiment to see if a nominally nonkosher track could be made ready for USATF championship events. Hecker thinks the portable plastic railing he assembled met USATF standards.
As it turns out, sprint records couldn’t be set today anyway. Andy didn’t risk setting up the auto timing equipment — camera and computer — in the heavy rainstorm that greeted athletes for the 10 a.m. start. He also sent home a bunch of USATF officials, which also saved him from having to pay $50 each. So who was the meet starter? Andy shot the gun for all events, except the 60-meter hurdles (in which he ran himself).
Hand-timers gave athletes their marks at the finish line.
Field events were canceled for safety’s sake. The high jump and pole vault pits weren’t dragged out at all.
But most notable of all: Andy canceled entry fees. (However, to help recoup the cost of medals he ordered for a Southern California Association championship meet, he asked for entry fee payment to claim one.
Andy’s name is mud in some USATF circles because he challenges the orthodoxy of late registration fees. But for some athletes intent on testing themselves at indoor distances several weeks before the national indoor championships, Andy is an angel.

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February 19, 2005