The Illinois Team Championship

Tony Holler Coaching Blogs Leave a Comment

I wanted to come up with a spectacular title like “The Twelve Track & Field Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus”, a tribute to the psychedelic masterpiece by Spirit back in 1970.  I also thought about a title that would encourage thinking out-of-the-box, something like “Visions of a Track & Field Anarchist”.  I settled on getting right to the point, “The Illinois Team Championship”.

Despite my personal feelings about the IHSA, the IHSA Track & Field State Championship is amazing.  The 3-day, 2-night format makes for memories that last forever.  2,632 boys qualified in 2014.  The crowds were bigger than ever.

If you don’t like our state meet, go to another state and check it out.  I was shocked when I witnessed the TSSAA (Tennessee) State Track Meet in 2005 and 2006.  I was so distraught after the 2006 meet in Murfreesboro, I drove all night to see the IHSA Finals the next day.  I love the fact the IHSA meet is NOT coed.  Supervision would be so much more difficult.  Anyone who lobbies for coed track is not a boys track coach.  I love the fact that we have one designated site every year.  If you want to read more about my love of the IHSA State Meet, you can read what I wrote a year ago,  Best Weekend of the Year.



The state meet crowd seemed bigger than ever in 2014. I have do not have the figures on attendance. Two emails to the IHSA have not been answered. I answer emails 365 days a year. Click to enlarge.


I supported the proposal that would have maximized the number of qualifiers in each event.  However, there were too many people who spoke against it.  In my humble opinion, the people who spoke against the proposal kept 500 athletes from going to state this year.  Dumb.

I support the idea of double points for relays, but too many people speak against it.  The most exciting races in our sport would become turbocharged.  High school track and field is a team sport.  AAU is individual.  Many NCAA track teams are collections of individuals.  Professional track and field is 100% individual.  Why should we blindly perpetuate the “me, me, me” philosophy of track and field?  Doubling relay points would take the focus away from the individual.

I support the idea of an Illinois Team Championship, but I fear too many people will speak against it.

Track coaches are so damn nice.  Do we really need 100% consensus to move forward?  Have you noticed that one coach at a seed meeting can hold the entire group hostage?  We are way too reasonable sometimes.

Why not test the idea?

“Experiment is the sole source of truth. It alone can teach us something new; it alone can give us certainty.” -Henri Poincaré

Many coaches believe the time has come.  It’s time to test drive the “Illinois Team Championship”.  The proposal has been written.  It will be opposed.  People will have better ideas.  The IHSA may form a committee and study it for 10 years.

However, the proposal, written by Plainfield East coach Mike Adamson, is brilliant.  The  proposal does not ask the IHSA for a commitment.  The proposal is only asking for an EXTRA WEEK.  Give us one week to add one meet.  That’s it.  That is all the IHSA has to do.  Let us run an experimental Illinois Team Championship.  We will run it for 3A boys.  If the meet doesn’t work, let it wither on the vine.  We tried it and failed.  Nothing has been lost.

The meet will be owned by coaches.

If the “3A Boys Illinois Track & Field Team Championship” is a success, let us tweak it to make it better in 2016.  Let the other classes copy our successful format and initiate meets at their own sites.  If the IHSA sees six meets that run smoothly and make lots of cash, the meets may someday become the “IHSA Track & Field Team Championships”, but don’t hold your breath.

We don’t need the IHSA’s leadership to conduct a first-class meet.  Sectionals do just fine.  Some invitationals are amazing.

I see the Illinois Team Championship being the desert after the meal … the icing on the cake … the final enhancement and enrichment to a track season that rose to a crescendo at the IHSA State Track Meet.

If the IHSA State Meet is the CLIMAX to our season, the Illinois Team Championship would be our DENOUEMENT (for all of you PE teachers, the denouement is the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved).


The IHSA State Track Meet is FANTASTIC, the spectacular climax to our season. The Illinois Team Championships should be “in addition” to the State Meet and should not tarnish or minimize the meet’s greatness. Click to enlarge.

Elmhurst York won the 2014 IHSA Track & Field State Championship.  Would they have won the Illinois Team Championship the following week?  If someone else won the Team Championship would that have tarnished York’s state trophy?  I say no.  There will be one and only one 3A State Championship team and they will win that trophy at Eastern Illinois University.  However, wouldn’t it be fun to compete “team vs team” the next week?  If you think no, don’t accept the invitation.  Decline.  Go to Disney World.

Paul Vandersteen of Neuqua Valley recently wrote a thoughtful article encouraging track coaches to improve our sport, Why Change is Good.  His ideas are not exactly the same of mine, but our hearts are in the same place.  I encourage you to read his article, but if you are in a hurry …

  • Change is good and our sport needs change
  • Double relay points
  • More than two entries per event based on a qualifying standard
  • Music at meets
  • Night meets
  • Exciting announcers
  • Immediate results posted on a scoreboard
  • Stop listening to the “purists”

In my dream I see 22 teams bringing every kid in their program to a college track facility.  22 teams of 100 athletes would put our crowd at 2,200 before we sold the first ticket.  We would have over 100 coaches.  Our total attendance could be 7,500.  Excited yet?

I envision a meet where coaches are allowed on the infield, not restricted to stands like spectators.  The atmosphere would be like an IHSA Sectional where coaches run the show, not those retired ex-principals who attend one or two track meets per year.  Touché.

The meet would move fast.  No prelims.  What’s up with the track & field curmudgeons of the world holding on to prelims like the South held on to segregation?  Some things die hard.  I think most of those guys who cling to prelims have suffered from “speed envy” since childhood.  It just burns their ass to see fast, bouncy, well-rested sprinters find glory after a 10-second race.

Excuse my rant.  Some of my best friends are slow people.

Anyway … no prelims.  I may have just lost 20% of my audience.  Oh well, as Daniel Burnham said, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”  I guess I will keep on stirring.

The time schedule at the state meet is hell on spectators but important to athletes.  Without built-in delays, events come too fast for competitors to run elite times in multiple events.  At the Illinois Team Championship, we will run on a rolling schedule.  Great for spectators.

This is a TEAM championship, so relays should score premium points.  Like Texas, relays will score double.  Now I’ve lost another 20% of my audience, including the respected voice of track & field, Mike Newman.  In his Dyestat blogs, Mike has thoughtfully argued against double-point relays because the relays favor the sprints and upset the precious balance between sprints and distance.

First of all, track is more about running fast than running slow.  Yikes.  Sorry, just an attempt at levity from a sprint coach.


My best picture ever, 4×4 finish back in 2011. Can you imagine if they were competing for double points? Click to enlarge.

Let’s just stick to the numbers.  Distance races (3200, 1600, 800, 4×8) make up 22% of all events.  If we double relay points, that balance is actually improved.  25% of relays are distance events!  In my way of thinking, the events that lose some importance are the specialty events … those field events where participants don’t usually compete in relays.  The shot, discus, and pole vault’s importance will be slightly reduced by double-point relays.  That’s ok with me, this is a meet that rewards the multi-event athletes, not the specialists.

Doubling relay points would obviously force strategy changes for coaches.  We could see incredibly fast 4×2, 4×4, and 4×8 relays.  Superstar 400 runners may run the 4×2 for the first time all year.  Blazing-fast 200 runners may run the 4×4.  Top-flight 3200 runners may get inserted in the 4×8.  Fun stuff.

Not everyone on your team gets to participate.  This is a CHAMPIONSHIP team meet, not a recreational all-comers meet on a windy Monday afternoon in April.  The participants for 3A boys will be limited to a minimum standard in each event.  The minimum standard will be the IHSA Boys Class A Qualifying Standards.

Geez, is there anything else that is controversial about the proposal?  Is there anyone still reading?

Qualifying marks can be achieved at anytime during the year, as long the meet was a FAT meet of six or more teams.  For example, if you have a sprinter who ran 11.13 at your conference meet, he has reached a qualifying time.

Your team will NOT be limited to two entries per event.  If you have five long jumpers who have jumped over 21’0″ at qualifying meets, you many enter all five jumpers.  This will obviously be a rare occurrence.  The flip-side to this rule will make up for the multiple entries … if you have no athletes who have long jumped 21’0″, you have NO entries in that event. 

The powerhouse teams in the state will have entries in almost all events.  York, Edwardsville, Lake Park, and Neuqua Valley will have tons of entries because they were the best TEAMS in the state.  The cross-country meccas of the state will get to enter every kid that has run under 10:04 in the 3200.  I had a good young team last year that placed 9th in the state’s best sectional.  In spite of our mediocre performances, we would have met performance standards to compete in 13 of the 18 team championship events.  We would have qualified two guys in 4 events.  Powerhouse teams would have a surprising number of entries.  How many would your team have qualified?

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 4.33.57 PM

Minooka, winner of the Joliet West Sectional, would have had entries in 17 of 18 events, with multiple entries in 7 events.  In three events, Nick Lundin’s team would get 3 entries.  Cool.

And then there’s Edwardsville, my pick as the top overall team in Illinois.  Coach Lakatos would have entries in all 18 events.  Wow.  They would have multiple entries in 13 events! And, how about the extra entries?

  • 100 – 4 entries
  • 200 – 6 entries
  • 400 – 4 entries
  • 1600 – 4 entries
  • 3200 – 3 entries
  • 300 INT – 3 entries
  • LJ – 3 entries
  • Discus – 3 entries

It’s important to note, Edwardsville would NOT enter four guys in the 400 because those same guys may be in the 4×2.  No way are six guys entered in the 200 because four of those guys would run the 4×4, trying to score those double points.


Jermain Kline of Lake Park threw 66’5″ in the 2011 IHSA State Meet. His brother threw 61’9″ to place 3rd. Lake Park, with multiple entries, would have been an amazing TEAM in the Illinois Team Championship format. Click to enlarge.

This meet will not be a three-day trip.  Instead of three days, this meet will last about three hours.  The meet will start late enough for 3A teams from the St. Louis area to comfortably make the trip.

The eleven 3A IHSA Sectionals are far from equal.  Teams finishing 5th in a strong sectional may have won others.  For the sake of simplicity and geographical distribution of teams, the top two teams at every sectional will be invited to the Illinois Team Championship.  This sure isn’t good for my team.  The Joliet West Sectional this year included three teams that finished in the state’s top-10.  In addition, Waubonsie Valley is a perennial power and Plainfield East was a dominant team before a series of disasters struck for the 2nd consecutive year.  It could be argued that five teams from our sectional should have been invited to a team championship.

Belleville West would have the biggest argument against the selection criteria for the team championship.  Belleville West has averaged 28 points per state meet in the six-year history of 3A.  They have won two trophies and placed top-6 five times.  Incredibly, they have won medals in the 4×1, 4×2, 4×4 all six years.  18 medals in the sprint relays in six years “RELAYVILLE WEST”.  However, Belleville West would have qualified for only ONE team championship in the past six years.  Bolingbrook, Batavia, Riverside-Brookfield, DeKalb, Huntley, Palatine, and Niles West all finished top-2 in their Sectional standings but got blanked at the 2014 state meet. This situation reminds me of the 5A football days when Morris had to play neighboring 8A-ready Joliet Catholic every year in the high school playoffs.  Some teams have a tougher road.

Mike Adamson’s vision is this … we start with the simplest selection criteria.  You must place 1st or 2nd in the Sectional in order to be invited to the team championship.  In the future, he hopes to see a system in place where 11 Sectional champs get automatic births.  The other 11 teams would get selected “at large” by a committee of some sort.  Start simple then tweak.

These teams would have been invited to the 2014 Illinois Team Championship had there been one this year.

  1. Schaumburg and Batavia
  2. Oak Park and Lane Tech
  3. Lyons Township and Riverside Brookfield
  4. Edwardsville and Bloomington
  5. Thornton and Homewood Flossmoor
  6. DeKalb and Huntley
  7. Minooka and Neuqua Valley
  8. Barrington and Palatine
  9. Downers North and Bolingbrook
  10. Lake Park and Elmhurst York
  11. Evanston and Niles West

What an incredibly diverse group of teams!  Can you imagine this invitational?  Seven of the top-10 teams in the IHSA State Meet are found in this 22 team list.  These 22 teams won 61 of the 162 medals awarded at the state meet.

Medals won by teams placing 1st or 2nd at their Sectional:

  • Field Events – only 12 of 54 medals (22%) won by top teams and Lake Park won 4 of those 12.  This indicates that mediocre teams can produce star individuals.
  • Running Events – 27 of 72 medals (38%) won by top teams … 3 distance events 9 of 27 (33%) … 5 sprint events 18 of 45 (40%)
  • Relays – 22 of 36 team medals (61%) won by top teams.  The state’s best track programs produce the best relay teams. 
  • If you consider the combined sprint events (3 relays and 5 individual) … 35 of 72 (49%) … the top teams are FAST … #SpeedKills

If you want to join the ranks of the best TEAMS in the state, you better get good at the 4×1. 6 of the top-10 teams in the state made the finals of the 4×1. Seven of the nine all-state 4×1 teams came from the 22-teams who would have qualified for the Team Championship. The state champions (York) and runners-up (Edwardsville) placed top-2 in the 4×1. Click to enlarge.


Mike Adamson is in negotiations with Joliet Memorial Stadium for the possibility of a meet next June.  Regardless, the meet will be held at a spectator-friendly first-class facility.


Joliet Memorial would work great. Imagine this placed sold out. Stub Hub might be your only option!

The time of the meet has not been set.  We would like to make it a twilight meet on a cool Saturday night.  Running a double-points 4×4 under the lights would be a sweet ending.  Maybe play Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” or “Not Afraid” … loud … as the 4×4 teams take the track.

I would ask the most exciting announcer in the state, Ralph Drendel of Kaneland to work our meet.  The crowd would be on the edge of their seats!


The feedback for this meet has been 90% positive.  Try to get 90% consensus in Washington D.C. … ain’t going to happen.

I’ve already addressed the Belleville West dilemma.  Here is another important issue …

“The season is already too long.  Our district may not support one more meet.  This meet may affect our summer camps.  Our coaches are on “the brink of divorce” by the time they get home from the three-day IHSA State meet.”  Yes, yes, yes, and yes.  I get it.

Maybe we start too early.  I don’t have an answer to this problem.  But is this enough to ditch the proposal?  Should we not test it?  Here is what I think.  Not everyone will come to this meet.  22 teams invited, maybe only 18 teams show up.  Does everyone show up to Top Times?  Top Times is our unofficial “Indoor State Meet”.  If everyone showed up for Top Times, it would be a better meet.  I like Top Times regardless.

Another concern voiced by a couple of coaches … this would change the entire dynamic of the Sectional.  Instead of a focus on qualifiers, we will now have to split our focus between qualifiers and team points.  I disagree.  Sectional champs win because they are powerhouses.  Seldom do fantastic teams capable of being THE BEST TEAM IN ILLINOIS fail to place top-two in the Sectional team standings.  It just doesn’t happen, unless your Belleville West.  Furthermore, remember … the Illinois Team Championship will be secondary to the IHSA State Meet.  The team meet is a bonus, not the prize.  Strategize in the Sectional like you always do … then celebrate an invitation to the Illinois Team Championships if you’re lucky enough to get one.


Are there ever enough moments like this? Would one more great meet hurt? 2012 4×4 medalists, click to enlarge.

In some ways, this meet will just be another invitational … the best invitational of the year … an INVITATIONAL OF CHAMPIONS.  Every event will have terrific athletes.  Every heat will be fast.  There will be no kamikaze vaulters struggling to clear 9’6″.  Every high jumper will have cleared at least 6’3″.  In some ways the competition may be more consistent than the state meet.

The vision has been presented.  The proposal is written.  If the IHSA gives us a chance to try it, we will make it good.  The meet will evolve into something special.  Someday the IHSA will want it for their own.  Let’s do this.

Tony Holler, Plainfield North High School

Follow on twitter @pntrack




If you are not on Twitter, life may be passing you by.  The volume of track & field material on Twitter is infinite.  Our sport has never been covered properly by the media but Twitter has changed all of that.  If you are not on Twitter, you have probably not seen my three most recent articles.  Make sure you give yourself time if you choose to read them.  Each is like reading a chapter in a book.

The Sprint-Based Football article is a good one to pass on to your football coaches … especially if you are one of those passive-aggressive track coaches.   Send this to your Neanderthal football friend and watch him get all worked up.  I truly believe the concepts outlined in the article will be the future of football.  I also believe sprint-based football is good for kids which sometimes gets ignored.  The star of the article, Lou Sponsel of Palatine Fremd, is a football coach but also belongs to the track & field world.  Lou is a very cool guy.

My entire sprint manifesto is outlined in 3 Simple Ways of Transforming Slow to Fast.  I am addicted to speed and that’s a good thing.

The hardest thing I’ve ever written is titled How to Coach the Sprint Prodigy:  3 Survival Stories.  I literally depressed myself in writing the article, trying to be honest and reflective.

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On Saturday, I saw this picture on Twitter.  The picture moved me.


My tweet accompanying the picture … I wish more track meets looked like this. As @PVsteen says, “Stop listening to the ‘purists’ and try new things.” … favorited 25 times, retweeted 17 times … woo hoo

I just couldn’t get this visual out of my head.  As my 55-year old body was chugging through a mid-day jog, my mind got creative.

At Plainfield North we host two exciting indoor meets.  We already have special events at both … the “Rock the 4×4” where we blast music during the 4×4, and the “Dunkin Donut’s 55”, where the best six shot putters compete for two dozen donuts.

Next year we add a third specialty race … THE GAUNTLET MILE.  Yes, we will have teams and spectators line the track in gauntlet style for the fast heat of the 1600.  We will leave two lanes free, just like the picture above.  I will invite the outstanding Plainfield North Drumline to create some rhythm.  Noisemakers will be allowed.  The goal is crazy enthusiasm bordering on pandemonium.

If you missed my wacky ideas about hosting invitationals, see Invitationals – Making Waves and Creating Magic.









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