My assumption is that high school track and field has become watered down in the last 10 years or so. A quick look at some results casts serious doubt on my assumption.
In 2000, the Alaska School Activities Association held a state soccer tournament for the first time. Soccer involves a lot of running, so it's reasonable to assume some track talent was lost to the sport.
In the past five years, baseball and softball also have shown up at the high-school level on the central Kenai Peninsula. Soldotna, Skyview and Kenai Central now have softball, while Soldotna has baseball. Homer has had softball and baseball for much longer than five years. Again, it's reasonable to assume the short bursts of coordinated power required for softball and baseball would steal away throwers from track.
Starting in 2008, ASAA also split track up into small schools, or Class 1-2-3A, and big schools, or Class 4A. Thus, instead of one region meet for Region III, there's now two -- one for small schools, one for big schools.
I figured all this activity in the last 10 years or so would have had an easily discernible impact on the results. I compared the 1999 Region III meet with last weekend's Region III/Class 4A meet and was surprised by what I found.
On the boys side, 12 of the 17 first-place marks from 2010 were better than 1999. On the girls side, nine of the 17 marks from 2010 were better than 1999.
This wasn't all that surprising. I'd always heard that the top-flight athletes who were really good at doing track were still choosing to do track. These numbers point to that being true.
What really surprised me was comparing sixth-place marks from 2010 and 1999. On the boys side, nine of the 17 sixth-place marks were better in 1999. On the girls side, nine of the marks were better in 1999 and one was a tie.
Sure, 1999 won. But it wasn't a landslide. I figured soccer, softball, baseball and splitting away the small schools would have had a big impact on the depth of the field. However, the sixth-place marks in 1999 aren't totally superior to 2010.
There are problems with my research. The 1999 and 2010 meets were held in different places with different weather conditions. Further, there was no state soccer tournament yet in 1999, but soccer programs already existed at schools.
Another thing I didn't look into is how the smaller Class 4A peninsula schools have been affected. Maybe the marks are comparable because the bigger schools in the Valley had enough students to absorb the changes, while peninsula schools did not.
Still, it was surprising to me that the quality of track and field in Region III does not appear to have suffered that much, if at all, in the past 10 years.
Soccer is one short, tough season for Alaska high-schoolers.
After the first two weeks of the season are canceled due to snow (I think scheduling games for early to mid-April is just wishful thinking), the already condensed season becomes even more abbreviated. Cramming games in is something all athletes deal with in Alaska, but playing three to four games a week can be straining, even for kids in their prime years.
Not to mention it leaves little time for practice. Add the fact that every regular season game against division opponents affects seeding for the conference tournament, and the limited practice time becomes more valuable.
Soccer teams don't have the luxury of learning from their mistakes during games. One bad game can affect the rest of the season.
Once the conference tourney does start, teams have to be at their best. Lose the first day, and you're out. It takes two wins to earn a trip to state from the Northern Lights Conference. Two in a row puts you in the championship game, but a win Thursday and Saturday also gets you to state.
While I'm not advocating for more games in the NLC tourney or otherwise (we have plenty to do as a two-man sports department at the Clarion), I do sympathize with soccer players. Especially for those who consider soccer as their No. 1 sport. The season flies by so fast, there's not much time to enjoy it.
The abridged season requires physical and mental stability. Soccer is one short, tough season.
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