SALT LAKE CITY — The annual Utah high school state track and field championships will be held this week.
Three. Entire. Days.
It is expected to require 21 hours to complete, although it likely will take longer. If you’re planning to attend, bring a book. A long one.
The addition of a third day of competition was necessitated by the addition of a sixth classification that was introduced to high school sports. That’s SIX — 1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, 5A and the new one, 6A.
The state track meet will be 12 track meets in one. There will be 12 state champions in the 100-meter dash, 12 state champions in the 800-meter run, 12 state champions in the long jump and so forth, counting the six classifications, both girls and boys. That’s 17 events for both boys and girls, multiplied by six classifications, which means 204 new state champions will be determined this week.
Six classifications, 204 champions — this was bound to happen in this era.
Everyone’s a winner!
Who’s bringing the orange slices?
The Utah High School Activities Association caved into pressure from smaller schools that complained they could not win state championships against bigger schools, never mind the "Hoosiers" movie.
The sixth class was added for the current school year, starting with football and cross-country. Nowhere is the addition of the sixth class more ridiculous than in football, where there are only eight schools in the 1A classification, 12 in 2A and 12 in 3A. Those aren’t classifications; they’re divisions.
This biggest, most obvious flaw with an ever-increasing number of classifications is that it devalues a state championship. For every boys state 400-meter champion, there are five more just like him. There are no true state champions. And every added classification further waters down the competition and prevents head-to-head matchups between the best athletes — this in a sport that is largely focused on individual performance rather than team races, and where small schools can and do produce big-time talent. Take this week’s state track meet for instance:
• By far, the fastest girls 100-meter sprinter in the state is Jaslyn Gardner of 2A Enterprise High, with a time of 11.84. Her closest rival is 6A Weber High’s Krista Farley at 12.21, but Gardner and Farley will not race each other. Gardner will race only athletes in her school’s classification, and her closest 2A rival has a best time of 12.60. In track terms, they’re not even in the same area code.
Gardner also won’t be able to race Provo High’s junior phenom, Meghan Hunter, in the 200. Hunter is a 5A athlete who has the fastest time in the nation in the 400 and is threatening the state record in the 200. The all-classes state record is 23.75, set by Gardner last year.
• In the middle-distance and distance events, the fastest in the state is North Summit High’s Sadie Sargent, who will compete for BYU next year. She has a state-leading time of 2:10.78 in the 800, a scant .05 of a second ahead of Carlee Hansen of 5A Woods Cross. But of course they won’t compete against each other this week either. Instead, Sargent will race only 2A competitors, where the closest challenger is 15 seconds behind her. Sargent faces the same situation in the 1,600 (28 seconds faster than her nearest 2A rival) and the 3,200 (65 seconds).
• The event that will suffer the most is the boys 100. Three of the fastest sprinters in the history of the state will compete this weekend, but not against each other. Dallin Draper (10.53), Keivontae Washington (10.57) and William Prettyman (10.61) are all in different classifications — 3A, 4A and 5A, respectively (a year ago they were 2A, 3A and 4A).
Setting all this aside, Utah simply does not have the population to warrant six classifications anyway. To wit:
• Utah has six classifications for 151 schools.
• Oregon, which has considered reducing the number of classifications, has six classifications for 295 schools.
• Arizona, which also has discussed reducing the number of classifications, has six classifications for 261 schools.
• Colorado has five classifications for 331 schools.
• Idaho has five classes for 159 schools, but has subdivided 1A into “Div. I” and “Div. II.”
• Washington has six classifications for 384 schools.
Not everyone can win a state championship or even mount a serious effort toward one, but some people think if they divide the competition small enough they can make it happen. There are plenty of other more realistic goals that should satisfy this hunger for some measure of success — region championships, individual accomplishments, relay titles, school records. If the state's governing body is going to try to make everyone happy, where will it end? Next stop: 7A.