Two-day regional meets — evoking nationals or peeving athletes?
Once upon a time, the USATF West Region Masters Championships was a one-day meet. Folks came from three or four states to compete at places like Los Gatos High School (near San Jose) or Cerritos College in Norwalk (near L.A.). But in recent years, under the direction of USATF West Region Coordinator Mark Cleary, the meet has been a two-day affair. It hasn’t pleased everyone. Before last weekend’s meet, for example, one record-holding athlete wrote me: “We are not going to the meet because it is two days unnecessarily and because the scheduling is ridiculous. How many prelims will be run for the 100 and 200 in ‘one of the most competitive meets in the country?’ Doesn’t look like the women or men will need any.”
In fact, many fields were thin Saturday and Sunday at Mark’s meet at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. All races were run as finals-only. Mark told me his meet had 160 entrants.
That’s not bad, but not nearly what it could have been. The concurrent Western States International Masters Invitational (a three-day meet at UC Davis) no doubt siphoned off several dozen entrants. And the still-hurting economy prevented some athletes from traveling to Southern California from West Region states Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada and New Mexico. But the meet has been bigger in the past.
Was the two-day schedule — or the fact nearly all events were contested in the morning — also to blame for the low turnout?
I attended the West Region meet only Sunday. (I had other plans Saturday.) But I wouldn’t have made the long trip both days anyway. Gas is expensive, and the morning schedule wasn’t my cup of tea. (A way-too-early-for-me 6 a.m. wakeup time is bad for my body clock.)
Other athletes shared my concern.
Several expressed anger that the meet was spread over two days, upping everyone’s cost, when it could have accommodated the same events in a single day. Others were upset at having to get up early (or stay overnight in a motel the night before) because of the early start time.
I buttonholed Mark on Sunday and asked: Why two days?
And also: Why the morning schedule?
Mark’s reason for scheduling events in the morning was plausible: Afternoons in SoCal can get toasty. Turns out that weather was delightful both days this year (mostly temps in the 70s under overcast skies), but the schedule was set weeks ahead of time.
So why the two-day meet?
Mark says it’s because “serious athletes” want a multi-day meet. He says his two-day regional meets prepare athletes for masters nationals (a four-day meet most years). And he insists he won’t change to a one-day schedule despite the extra expense to athletes — and himself. He also said USATF regional meets nationwide are moving toward the two-day model. Perhaps.
But a two-day meet means doubling all costs — track rental, officials’ stipends and phototimer services. Mark noted the “hundreds of hours” he spent preparing for West Regionals, but didn’t tell me the costs involved. I doubt anyone gave him a 2-for-1 deal.
Two- and three-day masters meets can be successful, of course. Witness the Western States meet and the annual Hayward Masters Classic. But those are special cases, and have a different appeal. Regionals are supposed to accommodate all interests. And sometimes they don’t.
So a poll: