The postseason is soon upon us and it seems like a good time to talk about one good idea and one bad one (or so it seems).
First, as those good-news, bad-news jokes always go, the good news: After four years, the folks running the Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference, or at least those dealing with track and field, have agreed to hold an official PHAC meet, rather than the faux conference meet which has been known as the "Coaches Invitational."
We (myself and writers covering other sports) have long advocated that the PHAC hold conference tournaments as is done, quite successfully, in the Schuylkill League. Our suggestions, as most do, continued to fall on deaf ears.
So, in fairness, I must congratulate the conference committee(s) for this move. The meet will be held next Saturday at Shikellamy, with both individual and overall boys and girls team champions recognized, just like the old days of the Susquehanna Valley and Central Susquehanna conferences.
PHAC track and field chairman Greg Sacavage of Mount Carmel said that this meet is being used an experiment with the idea of possibly holding similar championships in other sports. He said that there is a chance that basketball could be the next sport in line, and possibly as soon as the next season.
That sound you hear is me (and others) applauding. Let's hope it works out that way.
Oh, did I mention bad news?
I will preface it by saying that what initially was really bad news is now slightly better since a change was made early this week.
I am talking about the idea of holding all of the district meets on one day (a Saturday) in Athens (and likely at Shikellamy or Selinsgrove next season).
At least there has been one favorable change. According to meet director Mark Heckel, the schedule of events for that long day in Athens, which originally showed the final track event set for 8 p.m., has been moved up to 4:50. Thank goodness for little favors.
The obvious problem, whether it ends at 5:30 or 9:30, is that, any kind of delays (especially weather-related) could result in the meeting not being completed on Saturday. And this, in essence, is a state championship qualifying meet, sending athletes to Shippensburg University just five days later.
Heckel said he has spoken to PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi and was assured that, if it is unavoidable, the district will be allowed to complete the meet on Sunday.
It would seem like a two-day meet, such as is done in District 3, might have worked better, but, district track committee chairman Beth Shulze said it would have caused other problems.
"The committee did have a discussion about the possibility of a two-day meet but, again, that would put a huge expense for travel for the schools," she said, adding, "Once we get this meet under the belt we can look at what we need to fix or do differently for next year...in the south."
From this corner, it seems like, if they no longer wished to hold separate Class AAA and AA meets, a better idea would have been to go with a two-day (Friday-Saturday) meet like they do in District 3.
An argument can also be made that, if they are going to alternate the meets every year from north to south, there are good reasons to do the northern tier meet no more often than every third year.
Looking at the PIAA enrollment figures of the district schools that compete in track, 75.7 percent of the students, or 10,963 of them, are from Williamsport and south. The rest (3,527) come from the schools north of Billtown. (Thanks to sports editor Bill Bowman for doing the research on this one.)
There is another possible solution on the horizon, but probably not anytime soon. There is an effort in Williamsport to build a new stadium that would include an eight-lane track facility.
Williamsport athletic director Sean McCann said they are going to have to raise some money to make it happen, and meetings are under way to discuss some of those fund-raising projects.
He said the track facility is phase one of the project, but he is not sure of the time frame.
"The architect has the drawings and plans for us, with a cost estimate. We're just starting to move forward now," McCann added.
The district meet had been held at Williamsport for years before the stadium came under disrepair and obsolete. It seems now that our best hope to solve the problem will be for the more centrally located Williamsport facility to begin hosting the meets again.
ANOTHER CHANGE: Heckel said there will be another change for this year's district meet, one which had been discussed more than a year ago. In addition to the automatic qualifiers for the state meet, provisional qualifiers will also be allowed with total entries in each event still capped at 24.
Heckel explained that, for example, there are 20 automatic qualifiers (either champions or those meeting the standards) in an event, the next four best performances would earn a berth in the state meet.
"Twenty-four breaks nicely with either a six- or an eight-lane track," Heckel noted.
n Assistant sports editor Harold Raker covers high school track and field for The Daily Item. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.