December 26, 2012

High School Indoor Track & Field Preview: A system some say is simply off track

One league has done away with the junior-senior divide, but others staunchly defend it.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Although one of Maine's high school track and field leagues did away with the junior-senior divisions a year ago, southern Maine coaches plan to keep it.

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Kate Hall of Lake Region captured three events at the Class B championship meet last season – the 55 meters, 200 meters and long jump. And guess what? She did it all as a freshman.

2011 Press Herald File/John Ewing

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Junior division results count toward a team's score, but it's generally for athletes working toward being on the same level with senior division athletes.

Last year the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference went to a one-division format, but the Western Maine Conference and SMAA have continued using the junior-senior system.

It's a strange practice to some, but here to stay based on the strong attachment held by coaches at least in southern Maine.

Ted Hutch, coach of York High's defending Class B state champion, staunchly defends using the practice.

"It gives them a fighting chance against kids their own age. It's developmental. I support keeping it. I'm for it. It seems to work," Hutch said.

Ron Kelly of Scarborough, whose teams have won eight straight Class A state championships, also sees value in the practice.

"Maybe they didn't like it. Maybe their numbers are smaller. I think it's probably a bigger advantage for junior and senior (division) kids. It's still better for the freshmen," Kelly said.

Gorham Coach Jason Tanguay said it's not fair to have a freshman boy compete against a senior.

But Diane Fournier, who has coached at Mt. Ararat High in Topsham for 30 years, disagrees.

The KVAC coaches also tried using the practice for a year for girls, but it didn't make sense, Fournier said.

"It took a while to figure out how it all worked, and the people in the stands couldn't figure it out. But I know all those teams in the southern part of the state love hanging onto it," Fournier said.

"People argue it's tough for freshmen to compete against seniors, but then what happens outdoors, there's no junior division? And people say, 'Well it's for development.' Who cares? You have to run with the big dogs to become a big dog."

Fournier said it made sense 30 years ago when there were few indoor tracks.

Now that Bates College in Lewiston and Bowdoin College in Brunswick have tracks, as well as the University of Southern Maine's track in Gorham, there are more venues to hold meets.

Brunswick boys' coach Dan Dearing wanted to keep the junior-senior system, although he's adjusted.

"I know there were bad feelings and I put it out of my mind. I do know the coaches planned to keep it but it was overturned by the athletic directors," Dearing said. "If people's emotions were ever up, they certainly were over that. But I think the league is strong and moving on.

"We won the KVAC several times while we had the junior scoring being done. But on paper with those juniors taken out, we still would have won those meets."

Many other coaches said the development edge kids get in the junior-senior format, particularly boys who may not have reached their full height, is more important than providing a level playing field.

Greely Coach John Folan said he would fight if the Western Maine Conference got rid of it.

"We had an athlete in recent years, he threw 37 feet as a sophomore and as a senior threw 53 feet. That's a perfect example. He was not the same man as a senior. If he had faced those kids as a sophomore, he'd have been devastated," Folan said.

"I don't agree with how the KVAC does it. I like the way we do it. Good luck to the KVAC. In our meeting a few weeks ago, no one brought this up. It's a non-issue."

But even to some coaches who support it, the junior-senior division always will be an unusual format.

"I went to college in Massachusetts and nobody had heard of it there. We're either first or last in Maine, depending on what you're talking about," said Thornton Academy Coach George Mendros.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

 

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