The state track meet was staged this past weekend without at least one deserving team.
The Heath boys 1,600 relay had a heartbreaking end to its 2013 season at the Division II regional meet. The Bulldogs placed fifth at Lexington, but their time of 3:22.92 was the seventh-best run in Division II that day. It would have blown away the competition in two other regionals.
Heath sat at home while 11 relays ran slower times during Friday’s preliminaries. A 12th was disqualified. Another race of 3:22.92 would have placed them on the podium the next day.
The can of worms is being opened. The Ohio High School Athletic Association should listen to the masses on forums and social media and allow two extra competitors per event.
What would be the harm in having at-large entries? The OHSAA already does it with swimming, and every regional now uses automatic timing. Heath deserved a spot in the state meet.
After the regional meet, Heath coach Darl Keller was not pointing fingers or blaming the system. Every coach has fallen on both sides of the fence at some point during a long career.
Still, the hurt could be heard in his voice. His heart ached for athletes who did everything they could to participate in the state meet.
This is not traveling down the slippery slope that is qualifying standards. The state meet might take five days if the OHSAA allows every 3,200 runner who can break 10 minutes into the event.
The OHSAA had its 10th state meet at the facility on Woody Hayes Drive, and it has been a perfect home.
Coaches still talk about the original plan that had the throwing events inside the infield. Those were ushered out to appease the Ohio State soccer program.
The stadium could use a little more seating with an unimpeded view of the finish line, and multiple graduations staged at the neighboring Value City Arena create traffic nightmares on Saturday. Still, the area has ample parking and enough seating to handle the crowd without the place looking empty.
Credit, however, goes to the OHSAA for also being willing to change. Although the OHSAA and Ohio State have running the meet down to a science, tweaks routinely have been made to the actual events.
One thing the OHSAA never had utilized at Jesse Owens until 2011 was the ninth lane. That year, the OHSAA made the decision to qualify nine of 16 runners to event finals.
It has been a success. Not only has it allowed one more athlete or relay per event to have the opportunity to run on Saturday, but it also has ensured eight medals still are being rewarded when a hurdler falls or a relay is disqualified for poor baton exchange.
It is time to double down.
The OHSAA uses nine lanes on Saturday. Why not Friday? The formula frankly has been too perfect. Four qualifiers from four regionals totals 16 competitors, and it fits nicely into a box.
Watkins Memorial’s Stephanie Robb met the same fate as Heath. Robb ran a time of 2:16.53 in the 800, but she finished sixth during the Division I regional meet at Pickerington North. Robb, having seen her career end, was sobbing after the race and had to be consoled by her coaches.
Two Watkins athletes recently had qualified to the state meet in the same event with slightly slower times. Robb and Hartley sophomore Emily Franz were the two best 800 runners left at home.
When at-large bids and qualifying standards are discussed, critics immediately point to the weather. Robb sloshed through puddles still numerous from an hour weather delay when she ran her time. The Heath boys ran their time in the 1,600 relay on what was a nearly perfect running day.
No system is perfect. Somebody always will be fifth.
The regional setup is to give the state meet a cross-section of Ohio’s best athletes. The state meet, however, should be about recognizing the best.