Track & Field under Friday Night Lights
In the raging, pandemic-driven debate about when to play the coming high school football season, here's an opinion: Move football from fall to spring, trading places with track & field. Then make the fall track meet feel like a football game. Schedule meets on Friday nights at the same time, same venue and same opponent listed on the football schedule. Student-athletes will appreciate the symbolism: their coaches and administrators acknowledged the danger of coronavirus, but refused to surrender to it. Invite the cheerleaders and marching band to entertain between races. Light up the football scoreboard and keep the team score updated. Pack the event lineup tightly, one race after another. Have athletes standing by in a bullpen, warmed up, six feet apart, ready to run when called to the track. Plot the field events: long jump on its runway, high jump on one end of the infield, shotput on the other -- all happening simultaneously. It'll take leadership, coordination, volunteers, timers, scorers, wireless headset communication. This is a production! We're trying to approximate the pulsating drama of football. You'll need an excellent public address announcer to guide your spectators: "In the discus, after two throws, the leader is John Doe of XYZ High School. Now please direct your attention to the far side of the track for lane introductions of the 200 meters." Introduce these high school athletes like Olympic champions......particularly in this harrowing year, they deserve it. There's a track & field event for every football player -- sprints, hurdles, middle distance, the mile, the jumps, the throws. With a no-cut policy, encourage all to participate. Run as many heats as necessary to accommodate every entrant. When the meet finishes, after competitors have elbow-bumped each other, serve a tailgate dinner for everyone on both teams, their families, fans, cheerleaders, band members. They deserve this, too. Without the frequent COVID-19 testing deployed by pro sports, high school football is risky this fall. You can't find an epidemiologist who supports it. But equally valid is the claim by NFHS Executive Director Dr. Karissa Niehoff that reopening high school sports "is crucial to the growth, development, and mental and emotional wellness of our nation's youth." Will track & field under the famous Friday Night Lights adequately replace football? No, of course not. But under the circumstances, with enough staging, it's a damn good substitute. After your first meet, tell me if your heart wasn't pounding during the 4 x 100 relay. And then begin the countdown to spring football.
-- Terry O'Neil