ATHENS, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s northern tier is a beautiful part of the state, and despite occasional questions as to whether winter has completely ended by the second week in May, it’s not a bad place for a track meet.
Athens has one of the nicest high school track complexes in District 4 — which encompasses the upper midstate from Shamokin to Williamsport and on to the New York Border — and was selected twice in the past three seasons to host the district’s Class AA championship meet.
But you couldn’t blame the two schools from our area — East Juniata and Midd-West — if they demanded that the district find a different venue, especially after the debacle that was the long jump at Saturday’s event.
The Tigers — who have the longest drive of any school in the district — certainly would be justified in asking for lodging so they could come up the night before (in fact, some teams that have the money did just that). The bus has to leave Cocolamus at 5:30 a.m., far earlier than when the meet is held at Shikellamy (about 30 miles away) or Montoursville, where it traditionally was run until a few years ago.
The folks up this way were unhappy that they always had to hit the road for playoffs, but there are few schools in this remote part of the district, and the other sites are centrally located for all the schools.
But it was Midd-West — which doesn’t even have a track program, just individuals who have to run independently at other schools’ track meets to qualify for the district event — that really took one in the chops Saturday.
The problem — one that also may have affected a couple of East Juniata athletes — was the official in the long jump. She hadn’t worked the event prior to Saturday, said several people around the track. Apparently, the folks in charge of the meet thought the district championship meet would be a great training ground.
When the long jumpers prepared to start, the official wanted each girl to take six tries in the event, when the rules call for three. Only the finalists — the top nine jumpers after everyone has been through three times — get six.
But the official was planning to give them six more, according to her pre-event speech. And, she was planning on running through the entire list of jumpers in one shot, rather than break them down into “flights” of nine to 12 athletes, with the jumpers less likely to make the finals going first.
When the event got under way, it was apparent this official did not know why there is a white board at the back of the pit in which the jumpers land. When the participants come down the runway, they must jump without any part of their foot going past that board, or the jumper has fouled and is scratched from that attempt.
Not Saturday — numerous jumpers went over the line, some by several inches, without being fouled. If one of these illegal jumps was the distance that kept, say, Alicia Lauver of East Juniata from advancing to states, then her career ended prematurely.
Surprisingly, that wasn’t the worst offense. That was reserved for Midd-West’s Lauren Spigelmyer, who had her chance to contend for a state qualification stolen.
Spigelmyer had to run a trial in the 200-meter dash at about the same time she would have been jumping. This is not uncommon in track and field, and meet rules both allow and account for athletes who need to be in two places at once. Spigelmyer asked the official at the jumping pit to be moved up in the order so she could complete one attempt, then checked out and went to the track.
When she returned to the jumping area — well within the time allotted to complete her last two attempts, which may have put her into the finals, or even into state competition — she was informed that the finalists had been chosen and she was not among them, since she had not been there to complete her second and third tries.
This simply was wrong. An apology isn’t good enough when you’re at this level. Those mistakes can’t be undone.
It’s time to bring the meet back to the Susquehanna Valley where it belongs.
Jeff Fishbein is Sentinel sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.