SportsEvents Magazine

MAR 2017

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March 2017 48 t SPORT Report Oakes said this is reflected in the pride taken in achieving personal bests and work- ing toward longer-term goals, so success is about more than winning. "The accomplishments are based on the individual, so there is a sense of pride as performances improve, yet when the team is doing well, the overall meet will be a success," Oakes said. Relaying Goals Having a strong track and field presence at the high school level creates a strong foun- dation for the future success of the sport, according to both Geer and Oakes. "Our most elite athletes in the sport come through the high school program and the pool of these talented athletes continues to grow," Oakes said. "The high school pro- gram is a foundation for track and field and hopefully will always be a part to promote participation and appreciation of the sport." NFHS has strong relationships with both the NCAA and USATF, the sport's national governing body, to stay up-to-date on trends and rules, as well as to promote participa- tion and provide guidance and training on officiating, according to Oakes. While Geer agreed, she noted another key benefit of the popularity of the sport, particularly among the tech-savvy genera- tion. "The strength on the high school level provides both the fan base and the talent pipeline for track and field," Gear said. "The way young people use social media, it also significantly adds to the 'buzz' around the sport." Clearing The Interest Hurdle Like many sporting events, track and field faces its fair share of challenges to keep competitions fresh and exciting for both athletes and spectators, and both Geer and Oakes said the sport is making the neces- sary changes to keep up. "Track and field is the purest form of athletic competition," Oakes said. "It serves as a pillar of training for other sports as it provides a focus on efficient body move- ment. This being said, I think the sport is really picking up not only in participation but spectators as the pure enjoyment of watching the athletic performances is being appreciated." Oakes said she would have to defer to any one of her organization's state orga- nizations for specifics on event offerings designed to pique interest. But Geer cited multiple changes on the horizon for USATF competitions. "Track and field is the world's oldest sport but we haven't had too much inno- vation in terms of presentation," Gear said. "That is starting to change." Some of those changes include: incor- porating entertainment elements to athlete introductions and medal ceremonies; repackaging live presentation of the sport through team competition; and adding live music and cheerleaders. But, she said, consistency is still key. "Our participants tend to really value consistency, so keeping the competitive experience uniform is important," Geer said. "For our youth events, The Hershey Company sponsors 'welcome celebrations,' including DJs and picnics, to welcome athletes and their families. [Local orga- nizing committees] tend to try to provide unique experiences for our elite athletes, such as opportunities for a social gathering or tours." Racing Toward The Future At the high school level and beyond, the sport of track and field is strong — and is expected to grow stronger. Oakes predicted that new facilities that enhance the competitive experience, more opportunities for coach and official educa- tion, increased exposure through the NFHS Network — which offers a live stream of high school games and events via televi- sion, mobile devices and computers — and attendance at events would continue to help grow the sport at the high school level. As the largest and fastest-growing sport among high schoolers, according to the NFHS, and with more than 50 million Americans identifying themselves as runners, Geer said the sport has never been stronger from a participatory side and that's going to have a positive effect on USATF. "Track and field continues to grow at an outstanding rate among young people, which makes the future bright," Geer said. "While the fast get faster, the sport also becomes more and more inclusive of people of all abilities, from youth to masters [those over 30], from track and field to road racing and in the Paralympic space as well." Hosting major international events in the U.S. will also help track and field maintain a prominent position, according to Geer. Just last year, USATF hosted the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships and will host the IAAF World Outdoor Champi- onships in 2021. USATF's continued success and prom- inent exposure at the Olympics — in the most-watched events of Olympic broad- casts — has the power to attract attention from potential athletes and spectators. "Team USATF is the world's number one track and field team, winning 32 medals at the Rio Olympics for our best performance at a non-boycotted Olympics since 1932," Geer said. "We expect that competitive excellence to continue on the elite side." n

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