SPRINGVILLE—Track and field is one of the oldest sports. In ancient times, it was an event held in conjunction with festivals and sports meets such as the ancient Olympic Games in Greece.
It almost seems poetic that those track and field events from centuries ago centered around festivals when you consider how festive the atmosphere is today at the larger track and field events that bring together dozens of high school teams at a single venue.
Last weekend, only the best of the best got to compete at the state-level with Springville having a single entry with Payton Rowe in the hurdles.
But prior to that, Western New York saw back-to-back weeks of competition with the Erie County Interscholastic Conference Championships that were followed by the Section VI Championships in the last weekend of May and first weekend in June.
And while spectators travel considerable distances to watch championship performances, some of the more interesting and entertaining viewing comes from things that aren’t necessarily related to the finish line or end result.
Countless antics and shenanigans go on with not only the athletes, but also with coaches and officials before, during and after the event that enhance the entertainment value for those lucky enough to take in everything around them.
If you’ve never been to one of the larger high school track and field gatherings, probably the first thing that might catch the eye of a casual spectator is the campground atmosphere.
For starters, each team sets up camp somewhere on the stadium grounds with some sort of tent-like structure that dominates the landscape surrounding the venue, while crews of officials gather in various areas to coordinate multiple events simultaneously.
While officiating crews in general aren’t traditionally entertaining, sometimes the ejection of a coach or animated conversation about a disqualification can be.
Pat Janiga led both officiating crews at this year’s ECIC’s at Williamsville South High School and the Section VI Championships at Niagara Falls High School.
Janiga’s position is often the one that other officials don’t want because it involves informing teams of disqualifications and enforcing rules that monitor who has access to the field at given times.
“Sometimes you’re the bad guy with delivering bad news. Some of us (head officials) just get stuck with the position because others just don’t want to do it (breaking bad news).”
While Janiga’s four-plus decades of officiating work has seen advancements in equipment as an officiating aide, the long-time official believes the biggest advancement comes in the competition from the girls.
“The biggest thing for me is the development of women in track and field. I’m just extremely excited about how the young ladies are doing, some of them are just amazing,” Janiga said.
Advancements that have helped his crews over the years and by extension have aided spectators, begin with sound systems and also include electronic measuring devices and finish-line cameras.
While the casual spectator may take the announcement of the events and athletes for granted, Janiga can remember days when officiating crews were lucky just to have a megaphone to organize participants rather than a public address announcer utilizing a sound system. He also goes back far enough when every venue was comprised of a cinder-based track.
But aside from all that, what really motivates Janiga most is the different type of athlete that the sport of track and field seems to produce.
“They’re more focused,” he said. “This is an individual sport in most cases and their personal records may have them elated even if they finish last.”
Elaborating on different mindsets with various track and field athletes, sometimes you never know what you might see at some of the larger venues.
One of Medina’s runners took the time to wink at the camera in the midst of a grueling two-mile race at the state qualifiers.
“The two-mile race is such a mentally tasking race that as long as I do something goofy to make somebody else smile, I’ll be able to feel better during that race and go a little faster,” said Alden Cayea, who is a three-sport athlete and honor student at Medina whose mindset certainly echoes some of Janiga’s claims as to how special these athletes are.
Like many, the venue at larger meets makes it special for the Medina senior, “It’s a great day to hang out with all my friends from track and the races make me push myself.”
With no team scores at sectional competition, most of the participants openly cheer-on athletes from other schools that they’ve gotten to know over the years in more of a family environment. That alone separates track and field from almost any other type of high-school championship competition.
The ‘senior run’ has become a tradition at the Section VI Championships. Seniors from all the schools competing gather at the end of the event to run or walk a final lap around the track, but sometimes that’s only the precursor to other spectator treats.
Springville senior Nick Abdo made the atmosphere even more festive after securing a large water gun and having about as much fun as possible with it during and after the senior run. Although the bulk of the spectators were there to cheer on competition, watching Abdo and his teammates during the senior run had to be as entertaining as any of the day’s events.