Archive for Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Despite weather, Wichita provides sports spectacle

May 29, 2002

Friday had to be the most miserable day of sports coverage I've had to endure.

The Weather Channel's forecast for Wichita called for thunderstorms with temperatures between 65 and 70.

No problem, I thought. I'll wear shorts with a T-shirt, and maybe a long-sleeved shirt just in case.

A horrible move it was.

Drizzle, then pouring rain greeted people attending the 92nd annual boys and 31st annual girls KSHSAA Track and Field championships.

Some events were finally postponed in the evening until Saturday's session. Throwers had to compete in slop on Friday. Mulch was brought in to absorb some muddy areas, but it was like a present-day Woodstock.

Well, OK, Woodstock came with some other points not found at a high school track meet, but you get the picture.

The sun did come out on Saturday. I once again brought out the long-sleeved shirt, thinking it might stay somewhat cool. Jeans completed the wardrobe because I wasn't going to make the mistake again. Unfortunately, this time it did get much warmer. The long-sleeved shirt was a blessing in disguise. It prevented sunburned arms, but my face and neck weren't as lucky.

Then came the waiting.

The meet wasn't too far behind schedule Saturday, but determining team standings was slowed. It was reminiscent of the 2000 national election.

Votes, er, points were recounted and checked again because of new rules. Points were awarded for the top seven places this year, up one from previous seasons. Some event officials supposedly were used to the traditional format and hadn't factored the No. 7s in.

Shawnee Mission Northwest was announced as the official 6A boys team champs just 11 minutes short of midnight Saturday.

Despite all of my complaining, there was some brilliant linings to those dark clouds Friday.

The meet is one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

No, really.

Tonganoxie boys' coach Phil Williams said that roughly four years ago, it was advertised as the largest sporting event in the world.

Take six classes, multiply by 38 events, and then multiply by about 16 participants for each class.

Hmmm, that comes to 3,648 athletes. That alone would be a decent-sized town in Kansas. Tonganoxie has about 2,700 residents. Throw in fans, coaches, media and meet officials, and the total could be around 20,000 if not more.

Despite the unpredictable weather, Wichita was all about sports last weekend.

Class 6A state baseball was supposed to be played in nearby Maize, while 4A was slated for Mulvane, which is also just down the road. Because of the rain, both were rescheduled for Monday and Tuesday. Softball counterparts for those classes were played in the same cities, but they were played Saturday.

From the press box at Cessna Stadium at the state track meet, one could see Eck Stadium, also perched on the Wichita State campus to the east. Wichita State was the host school for the Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament. The Shockers won the tournament and will now hold an NCAA regional.

Wichita was the sports hub in Kansas last weekend, and the state track meet had to be the epicenter. It's refreshing to see the stadium come alive for track. Once home to Shocker football, the program was discontinued in the mid 1980s. A plane crash in 1970 that claimed that season's team seemed to be the underlying demise 15 years later.

Renovations have been ongoing at the stadium in recent years, and Wichita State's basketball home, formerly Henry Leavitt Arena, is undergoing massive renovations to the immediate west. In the future, it will be Charles Koch Arena as part of the Roundhouse Renaissance. The improvements, as shown on the Wichita State Web site, appear to also improve the area between the Roundhouse and Cessna Stadium. These improvements should help the track venue as well.

But back to the present. I dragged myself from that stadium one last time early Sunday morning, and I started thinking about what an amazing event was witnessed by so many people for two days.

Next year, I hope I can live it again.

Rain or shine.

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