New format makes state track qualification a season long process

Randy Brown at the high jump during a track meet at Lincoln Park

There’s a new way for athletes to qualify for this year’s Class 5A and 4A state track & field championships.

Gone are the predetermined state-qualifying marks of years past and the possibility of qualifying by earning one of the top three event places at the regional meet.

Now it’s down to the best of the best.

In the upper two classifications, only the top 18 competitors in each event at the end of the regular season will earn an invitation to the state meet May 14-16.

That’s right, it’s a three-day state meet this year.

In years past, the 2A and 3A state meets were at Pueblo’s Dutch Clark Stadium. The Colorado High School Activities Association has moved all four classifications to Jeffco Stadium in Lakewood. That will make for two long days of preliminary events Thursday and Friday and another long day of finals Saturday.

With the best 18 in each event, 5A and 4A preliminaries will consist of two heats in the running events. The top nine finishers qualify for the finals.

As usual, there are those coaches in favor of the new system and those against it. Grand Junction’s Darrell Simonton falls into the ‘pro’ category.

“I like it,” Simonton said. “I think you’re getting the best 18 kids to state.

“A lot of coaches are griping about it because it’s new.”

The past few years, the Tigers competed in probably the toughest 5A region in the state.

Placing in the top three in the sprints, jumps and distance events was a major challenge.

In addition, it forced School District 51’s three Class 5A schools to travel to the Front Range on successive weekends for regional and state competition.

“The best thing is we don’t have to travel two weeks in a row,” Simonton said.

One who’s on the fence is Fruita Monument coach Tom Goff.

“I see pros and cons,” Goff said. “At first I thought, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

“The longer I see this, the more I’m convinced (the new format will work). But I’m still not sure it’s the best for us.”

Goff is taking a wait-and-see attitude until after the state meet to decide.

He does admit, however, that it’s nice not to have to rely on a regional meet to qualify athletes.

“It’s not like you have a weekend or two to get in state,” he said, “You’ve got all season.

“I really don’t think it’s going to affect things that much.”

Some coaches, such as Simonton, have been forced to change their schedule so they can attend more state-qualifying meets, which must have electronic timing and finish-line cameras in order to be sanctioned by CHSAA.

“I just think you’ve got to give kids every chance you can to get into the top 18,” Simonton said.

That’s why he took his varsity team to Elizabeth during the first weekend of the season and to the Delta Invitational during spring break.

“I think we need to add more (qualifying) track meets,” Goff said.

Last week, with nearly every meet on the Front Range canceled because of snow, many Western Slope coaches took their teams to Rangely for the Panther Invitational. It is not a state-qualifying meet.

Simonton said the new format has generated a lot of interest within his team.

“My (track) kids that are in my weight class look at the (CHSAA Web) site to see where they are,” he said. “I think (the format) is motivational.”

Instead of regional meets, 5A and 4A schools on the Western Slope will compete in conjunction with schools in the other two classifications May 8-9 at Stocker Stadium. The smaller schools will still have two-day regional meets with the larger schools competing for their respective league championships.

“It’ll be fun,” Simonton said of vying for Southwestern League bragging rights again.


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