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Dr. J. on Running

Buffalo 2000 Junior Olympics

Interns Learn Lesson

Published July 31, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Two colleagues and I accompanied eight high school interns on a field trip to Buffalo July 24. Our goal was to teach the interns about engineering and broadcasting by webcasting live a track meet. Instead, we learned some old-fashioned lessons in integrity.

The USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championships, fondly known as the JO's, are held every summer at a different venue. A small group of investors, the Buffalo 2000 Local Organizing Committee, brought the meet to Buffalo with the motto "kids first." We were invited as guests of the local committee to bring the action to families and friends who could not attend the event.

After months of preparation, we packed our production trailer and drove west that Monday morning. By late afternoon, we were ready for the live webcast.

The JO's drew entries of more than 6,700 athletes between the ages of 6 and 18 from all across the country. Competition started Tuesday morning and was scheduled to last six full days. To facilitate our technical endeavor, the organizers promised to provide us with room and board with the referees and the officials.

The illusion of a "kids first" experience dissipated as fast as the clouds in the hot July sun. Although we were supposed to eat with the officials and referees, our interns were repeatedly turned away from the designated dining areas. We chalked up the experience to a misunderstanding and scrambled to find food in a city foreign to us.

The misunderstanding theory collapsed when the meet coordinator personally escorted our interns out of the dining hall on the second day, stating that there was not enough food for the officials and the kids. We rapidly learned that the food incident was only the tip of the iceberg that threatened the games.

The organizers chose not to display results on the stadium scoreboard in order to circumvent the appeals process. Instead of allowing coaches and parents to participate in the meet by displaying athletes' names, the organizers posted a printed copy of heat results in an obscure location, and they required a $100 fee with a protest, which had to be filed within 30 minutes of an event's finish.

In another departure from common sense, the organizers postponed seeding an event until after the athletes had checked in. In the process, they burdened the officials unnecessarily, created a nightmare for the check-in clerks and traumatized many athletes. The cumbersome multi-stage check-in process resulted in many kids being withdrawn from their races without ever setting foot on the track. Witnesses reported that a 13-year-old boy was removed from his heat for entering the clerk's tent from the wrong side. Similarly, a girls relay team of 11-year-olds from Arizona were withdrawn for missing a step during check-in.

The organizers failed to use the meet as a celebration of skills and sought to swiftly punish and disqualify any kid who dared to deviate from their bureaucracy.

Anger and frustration rapidly mounted among the many constituents - from athletes and parents, to officials and volunteers. The situation escalated as irate parents contacted legal, mayoral and senatorial offices, necessitating high-ranking USATF officials to fly to Buffalo to salvage the meet.

In the face of broken promises and belittling conduct, we saw an opportunity to demonstrate our integrity. Rather than staying and encouraging the continued misconduct of the organizers, we chose to maintain our dignity and return our kids safely to their families. Thus, I pray that they may develop the courage to walk away if they find themselves trapped in an abusive relationship in the future.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created TrackMeets.com, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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