First NSAF Operating Committee meeting yields new events, ideas

by Steve Underwood

With the purpose of rendering ever-advancing service to the prep athletics community, the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation, last weekend in Denver, convened for the first time an “operating committee” of those involved in producing NSAF events.  Led by Executive Director Jim Spier and Chief Operating Officer Joy Kamani, the group was also comprised of Paul Limmer, John Blackburn, Jacque’ Kendall, Ryan Canning, Joe Lanzalotto, Mike Elder, Kristi Rieger, Justin Scranton, David Mitchell (unable to attend in person) and Steve Underwood.  The purpose of the gathering was to review the Foundation’s events, suggest changes and make new recommendations.  The committee’s suggestions and recommendations will be taken to the Foundation’s Board of Directors at their annual meeting next month.

Expanding performance clinics

Building on the success of its javelin and triple jump performance clinic/projects – and knowing there are still contributions that can be made to other events where there’s hopes for greater international success for U.S. athletes – the committee discussed and hopes to implement in the next year a third clinic project: focusing on the discus.  There has never been a Team USA World Championship medalist in the women’s discus and Stephanie Brown Trafton (Gold in 2008) is the only American Olympic medalist since 1984.  On the men’s side, there have been just two WC medalists (John Powell silver in 1987 and Anthony Washington gold in 1999) and no Olympic medalists since 1984.

The plan would be to seek a prominent national (or international) coach and/or clinician to lead the project, as well as a renowned coach from the high school ranks to organize and monitor – in both cases like the javelin and triple jump projects enjoy.  Thoughts on a location for the international “immersion” clinic were also discussed, with Germany being a possibility.

Meanwhile, the committee discussed the recent success of and 2013-14 plans for its other performance clinics.  Four new athletes have been selected for the 2013-14 Project Triple Jump performance clinics, which will be announced within the next week.  They join three that are returning from 2012 – World Youth bronze medalist Keturah Orji, World Youth finalist KeAndre Bates, and Texas 3A state champ Felicienne Axel – and recently announced first-year participant Darrielle McQueen, the Golden South and Caribbean Scholastic Invite champ.

For the first time, the project will also include domestic clinics – tentatively planned for late November in the Dallas area and late December in south Florida – that will lead up to the “immersion” clinic in Nassau, The Bahamas.  The Bahamas clinic date is not yet set, but will likely be either late March/early April, or at the end of the summer.

Bahamian national coach Peter Pratt will continue to lead the Bahamas clinic and will also be on hand at the domestic clinics.  Now organizing the effort stateside is Coach Macka Jones, who has guided Bates and Axel to prominence.  He has relocated to Dallas where he’s a volunteer coach at Cedar Hill and will be coaching the Texas Faces – following a tenure in El Paso at El Dorado HS and the Texas Heat.

The 2013-14 season is also beginning for the Kultan Keihas Javelin Project, following a 2012-13 campaign that saw success ranging from Megan Glasmann’s string of senior year championships that culminated in the Pan Am Junior title (with a #2 all-time 176-11) to freshman Katelyn Gochenour earning the Javelin Carnival Pihtipudas’ Most Valuable Performer award in Finland following two victories there.

Eight athletes will be in the project this year, including Gochenour and four other returnees: Todd Ogden, Trevor Danielson, Josh Ritchter, and Karen Clark.  It was recently announced that Karen Bulger would join the group and the final two participants will be announced within the next week.

As has been the case in the past, the domestic clinics will take place this fall and early winter in Chapel Hill, NC, led at his facility by throws guru Jeff Gorski.  The dates set for those are October 17-20 and December 27-30.  The committee discussed but has not yet set a firm date for the Kultan Keihas Javelin Immersion Experience trip to Finland's Olympic Training Center in Kuortane in the summer of 2014.  Due to scheduling conflicts, the trip will likely set later in the summer (very late July and early August) and include an alternative competition to the Javelin Carnival Pihtipudas.  Leading the coaching in Finland is Kimmo Kinnunen, the 1991 IAAF World Champion in the jav, who also plans to be on hand for the Chapel Hill clinics.

The domestic clinic components of both the javelin and triple jump projects are open to all interested athletes and coaches, not just those selected for the international trips.

The committee discussed the other clinics the Foundation supports, including the Rochester Clinic and Coach Lisa Morgan’s clinic in New Jersey.  There was a general consensus in the committee that the Foundation should aspire to offer more camps and clinics for more events in more parts of the country.  A sub-committee was formed with those goals in mind.

New events and features at NB Nationals

The committee discussed the possibilities of adding new events at New Balance Nationals Outdoor, as well as upgrading the presentation of a few existing events and generally bringing more attention to the field events.  This past June saw a record 4,250 athletes in Greensboro and the dates for the 2014 meet are set for June 13-15.

For the young athlete who’s ready to explore or even jump right into the longest track races, the committee discussed adding a 10,000 meter event to the end of Friday night’s NBNO slate.  It also looked at the idea of creating a high school-only 10k as part of another major late-season meet or creating its own “distance festival.”  Look for a poll coming soon on the NSAF Facebook page to gauge interest in the 10,000. 

Then to give the javelin some extra attention, the boys and girls events will be held at the end of the session each of the first two evenings of NBNO – possibly with lighted sector lines.

And for the seeded sections of the 5,000 (and for the 10,000, if added) fans will be invited down to the track to cheer for the participants (and possibly given cowbells!) and give them some extra energy as Day 1 of the meet draws to a close.  That’s all provided, of course, that the javelin is complete at that point so there’s no visual obstruction of that event for fans.

The committee also plans to use displays and exhibits at the NBN meets to demonstrate the heights and distances of national jumps records, as well as getting a feel for the weights and sizes of the throwing implements.  It’s all part of the desire to make the NBN experiences more fan-friendly.  Another display is planned to share the Foundation’s mission and additional events, giving athletes, coaches and fans the chance to learn more about them on site, as well as asking questions and getting involved.

More new events and updates

Always with an eye toward giving field events their fair due, the committee looked at ideas regarding the NSAF hosting a few more specialty meets, including a possible Throwers-Only Invitational at UNC-Chapel Hill and a possible Jumps-Only competition at a location to-be-determined.  Both of those are in the exploratory stage at this point.

Speaking of throwers, the 2014 calendar will again include the Chicagoland Throws (name altered slightly from Chicagoland Throwers Series to reflect the NSAF’s involvement in the single event), with an anticipated date of July 12.  This past June’s event was a tremendous success, particular in that the preps were able to interact with and compete side-by-side with their elite, professional and Olympic counterparts. 

The Foundation will be looking for additional ways to enhance the event, including possibly holding the shot put at night on the shores of nearby Lake Michigan.  With the event coming after NBNO this year, the top three finishers from each throws event at the Greensboro meet (plus one wildcard) will be invited to the Throws.  Also, plans are afoot to add clinics to the experience in 2015.

Also, the NSAF’s Caribbean Scholastic Invitational plans to increase the prep athletes invited from 28 to 32 for 2014.  Also, keep an eye out in the weeks ahead for word on the meet’s location for next spring as alternative locations are being explored.  The dates have not been finalized, either, but it’s likely that the weekend after NBNO (June 20-21) will be chosen.

Before we turn the calendar to 2014, however, the Great American Cross Country Festival – including the Robert Shumake Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Challenge – is at hand, coming up on October 5.  This will be the 8th GACC since the NSAF took control of the event, and the 5th HBCU Challenge. 

In 2012, GACC total entries were up 38 percent from the previous year.  To continue to enhance the festival and entire-family-friendly aspect of the event, a bounce house will be available for kids and there will be live music.  The committee’s Jacque’ Kendall reported that media coverage of the HBCU Challenge is growing and efforts to increase available funds for teams’ travel expenses are being made.  Sixteen schools have committed to the Challenge, but drawing more schools from further away would make it even better.  The committee is also looking into raising funds to help create an HBCU Challenge in outdoor track.

The committee discussed the relative lack of entries thus far in the American Independent Schools Challenge, also part of the GACC, and recent changes in the sanctioning of North Carolina and South Carolina independent schools which now allow those schools to compete in the main portion of the GACC.  This week, a few days after the Denver meeting, it was decided to cancel the AISC for this year and encourage the above-mentioned eligible schools to participate in other GACC races.

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