by Mike Byrnes

It has been written, "A rose by any other name would small as sweet." Another saying, "If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, etc…" you get the message. This article will speak to a definition of a national type competition for the sport of indoor track and field. Now let it be known to all, there can be NO meet calling itself a "National High School Championship" since that phrase has been copyrighted by the National Federation of High School Athletics thus it may not legally be used by any other entity. This august organization frowns upon competitions nationwide in scope. However, events of such a nature are held and will continue to be held. It is a matter of time before a high school Final Four will join the collegiate ranks as part of March Madness.

I say this due to the inevitability of such a venture. This nation has an unquenchable thirst for sporting events. This past season it was possible to watch quite a few elite high school football games on television. One of the events the National Scholastic Sports Foundation conducts, the Nike Indoor Nationals was one of the first sporting events televised by a new channel devoted solely to sports, ESPN. Our meet was given 90 minutes and aired twice, once in prime time and the other during the early morning hours. Taking all these factors into consideration, the inevitability is obvious.

Why was our meet selected to be the first high school event so honored? The meet was national in scope. I had the good fortune to be the recruiter for those early meets. Make no mistake, I went after athletes from as many states as possible. Indeed, in our opening ceremonies we had a flag for every state represented and as the band played, the announcer handled the presentation just as it is done in the Olympics, an athlete from each state carried their flag into the infield and the state was announced. It was "Pomp and Circumstance" all the way.

This year's NIKE INDOOR NATIONALS saw 2546 athletes from 43 states and DC take part along with a few from Canada and Bermuda. Imagine the thrill a kid feels when he/she lines up at the start knowing those athletes with him/her are from throughout the nation. Don't ever think they don't know and believe me, they are thrilled. For some, those truly Elite competitors who stand head and shoulders above their local competition , the opportunity to show what they can do against others equally as skilled brings out their best. It's no accident that our meets have engendered millions of dollars in scholarships for the young men and women who take part.

I've recounted to you the story of the coach from a small college who told me "I've won my conference meet for the next four years." He's recruited several athletes, none of whom had medaled nor, in a couple cases, even made the finals but whom were good enough to score highly in their future league, division, national meets. As I ready myself for my departure from these pages I feel an intense feeling of passion, bordering on wonderment of just how much good these meets have done.

Sadly, there are still a few states that deny the student-athletes under their jurisdiction the chance to earn the same laurels as their compatriots from more enlightened states. But, there are only a few such and, hopefully, they will see what opportunities they are denying those under their charge and open the door for every athlete within these United States to take part.

Now, you may be asking, if some states won't let their kids compete, how did you get participation from all fifty states? Some states don't have indoor track so the athlete competes unattached. But despite all the problems, the result, a TRUE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, is a reality. But wait a minute, these are high school kids, why is such a meet necessary? Obviously, the National Federation doesn't think it is. Why does the National Scholastic Sports Foundation feel differently?

To answer that, let me go back to two of the greatest of all Americans, General George S. Patton and, to a lesser extent, Vince Lombardi. Patton is generally regarded a this nation's greatest fighting man while Lombardi is revered primarily due to his statement, "Winning is not the most important things, it's the only thing." Both of these great American icons believed winning was EVERYTHING. Well, frankly, we at the NSSF are not quite that vehement but if one is an American one understands the absolute necessity of winning.

When I lecture to young men and women I point out there can be only one winner of a race but that doesn't mean all the other competitors are losers. Sorry General, sorry Coach. Surely winning is vital but more importantly doing the best you can is more so. In the Nike Cross Country Nationals, the role of the Fifth Man is emphatically emphasized. I covered cross country for T&FN for many years. One year Villanova won the NCAA title. I wrote not of the front four for that team but of the effort of their fifth woman. Despite the fatigue of running a 5k under national championship conditions, this young woman ran a truly magnificent final 300m, passing at least 10-12 runners and being the reason Villanova won.

So, track and field is the most popular sport at the high school level. Every coach of an Elite athlete, Every Elite athlete, Every TAFNUT wants to know, Who's the best? The NSSF gives those kids the chance to prove themselves. There can be only one winner but I vividly recall the great 400m race from the 1987 indoor meet where William Reed raced Steve Lewis. Reed won. After the race an utterly exhausted Lewis, near total collapse on his knees and elbows, responded when I put my arm around him and congratulated him on a great effort, "I did my best, I couldn't do any more." The Californian lost that day but one year later he became the youngest Olympic 400m champion in history.

So, what's a TRUE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP? In my not so humble opinion, it's giving every Elite athlete the opportunity to say "I'M THE BEST, I'M THE NATIONAL CHAMPION." We at the NSSF are proud we created the two meets that give an athlete that chance.

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