As a freshman and sophomore, Lake Region junior Kate Hall won three events at the Class B state track and field championships – both indoors and outdoors. Given her druthers, she would prefer to face the best competition the state has to offer.
“I think it would be a great opportunity for all of the track athletes throughout Maine if all three classes came together and competed against the best of the best at an all-class state meet,” said Hall, who finished second in the nation in the long jump this winter and won the 100 meters as a sophomore at the New England championships.
“Not only would it be a great experience for everyone, but it would also give each athlete a chance to compete against different competition at a higher level and give them a taste of a more intense atmosphere.”
Maine’s top high school track and field athletes often have to wait until the New Englands to be pitted against the state’s best. And most years that means they have to travel out of state.
That’s because the state championships – scheduled for June 7 this spring – are split into three classes by school enrollment.
In Massachusetts, New York and other states, a state track and field champion is truly a state champion who goes head-to-head against athletes from schools of all sizes.
Maine held an “all-comers” championship meet in 1990 but the experiment lasted just one year. Today, Maine high school track and field coaches are split on whether the state track meets – separated into Classes A, B and C – should be melded into one meet.
Cheverus Coach Steve Virgilio, also the men’s track coach at the University of Southern Maine, is in favor of an all-comers meet.
“I think that would be awesome,” he said. “You could keep it the week before the conference meet (instead of holding regional meets). Quite a few of my athletes go on to New Englands.”
Falmouth assistant coach Jorma Kurry, whose team recently moved up from Class B to Class A, also said an all-comers meet would help Maine’s best athletes excel, so long as the state retains its team-scoring championship meets. Massachusetts holds two state meets, one for teams, another for individuals.
Many coaches in Maine said team scoring is the most important aspect of track and field, and smaller schools would suffer in an all-comers championship meet, even though individual stars would thrive against better competition.
Thornton Academy boys’ coach George Mendros said the 1990 all-class meet didn’t generate enough interest to be continued.
“It was hoped that we would get at least half of the possible entries in the events,” he said. “Most events had less than six athletes, or less than a third of the entries. The crowds were small as well.”
And Mendros said in a season with five regular-season meets, there’s little wiggle room for another championship meet. The New England championships are held in the second week of June (this year in Norwell, Mass., on June 14), a week after the Maine state meets. Conference championships are held the week prior to the state championships.
At the same time, Mendros said Maine track and field produces an inordinate number of elite distance runners who go on to excel in Division I. He noted there are many elite distance runners who never get truly tested in Maine.
Scarborough boys’ coach Derek Veilleux, whose team won the school’s first Class A outdoor state title last year, likes the idea of an all-class meet in theory but said Maine’s spring is too short for it to work.
“Most kids like the opportunity to go against the state’s best,” he said. “I personally think it would be an exciting meet to showcase the state’s best talent, but the logistics of it would be difficult. You’d have to move things up in the schedule.”
York Coach Ted Hutch said the last attempt at an all-comers meet was a disaster.
“They did it in Orono. It was nice to see the other teams competing against A, B and C, but it became like herding cattle,” Hutch said.
However, the head of Massachusetts’ high school track and field said organizers there have state meets down to a science and that top athletes benefit.
“We hold big meets all the time. It just takes meet management,” said Jim Hoar, president of the Massachusetts State Track Association. “They’re getting better at it in Maine. I remember South Portland held the New England championship several years ago. It ran late. But Thornton (Academy) held it (in 2012). It was much better. They are improving.”
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: