4 January 2016
Dear Mr. McGraw and Members of the IHSA Cross Country Advisory Committee,
My name is James Janota, and I am an English teacher and Assistant Cross Country Coach for Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, positions I have held for the past 14 years. I am writing to you to address the issues arising from the “unauthorized” time trial that occurred on Friday, November 6, 2015, and to correct several erroneous statements made as well as to offer alternative recommendations to the punitive ban and harsh sanctions proposed in the “Minutes of the Boys / Girls [sic] Cross Country Advisory Committee,” dated December 9, 2015.
Yes, a time trial occurred at Detweiller Park on Friday, November 6, 2015. Yes, approximately 200 student-athletes participated in said time trial. Yes, Detweiller Park is “historic and revered,” thus the reason so many competitors wished to test their mettle on its hallowed ground. However, the aforementioned minutes omit that these time trials have occurred on the Friday before the State Championship, literally, for decades. In my 18 years of overall coaching experience, I myself have timed and participated in these time trials. At no time and place in the past 18 years has any IHSA official ever informed me or my coaching colleagues that these time trials were against policy and unauthorized. Why were these time trials allowed for decades, yet 2015 brought about their demise?
According to the advisory board minutes, “an announcement was made at the 2:00 pm coaches [sic] meeting where coaches were formally and respectfully asked to respect the course and the actual qualifiers here at Detweiller that were attempting to get in a safe and unencumbered work out [sic]. Coaches were told that no open races had been approved by the IHSA and no such races were to take place.” The problem with this statement is one of time. The time trial began at approximately 2:00 pm. Given the decades-long history of time trials occurring on that particular Friday, how were coaches supposed to know that these time trials were no longer allowed when the race was already underway as the meeting had just commenced? How were they to halt the race when it had already begun?
Finally, it is additionally stated in the advisory board minutes, “the unauthorized race [placed] all legitimate state qualifiers on the course at the time at risk of injury.” Again, time trials have occurred for decades, yet the risk of injury has never been presented as a factor in halting this process. It has never been a factor because EVERYONE knows these time trials take place, the competitors are respectful of practicing athletes and spectators, and somehow we all stay out of each other’s way. If safety is such a concern to the IHSA officials, why, then, did they take barricades from the finish area and place them on the course, obstructing the path of runners as they passed through this area? I contend that this knee-jerk reaction from angered IHSA officials was a greater risk to safety than the race itself.
Lest this letter be read as the spiteful words of a frustrated Cross Country coach, I can assure the IHSA that I merely wish to correct the record, and now hope to offer an alternative suggestion to the unadulterated ban on time trials.
At the IHSA Track and Field State Championship at Eastern Illinois University, an opportunity to race on that beautiful blue track is offered by the university workers themselves. For an entry fee of $5, any and all comers are allowed one final race – an opportunity – to snatch one small piece of glory as their seasons, perhaps their high school tenures themselves, come to a close. Why could this not be offered to the willing competitors at Detweiller Park? The timing equipment is already there. The officials are already there. For a $10 entry fee, permit these young men and women a bib and a chance at glory. Limit the number of competitors if need be. Set a specific race time to avoid practicing teams and alleviate safety concerns. Cancel the entire race if weather is inclement or the race may place the course in danger of being unsuitable for Saturday. Use the collected funds to defray the cost of the timing equipment, to pay officials, or to donate to the Peoria Park District. Ask the coaches for a hand in organizing and implementing this activity…I and they will gladly help. No logical coach would ever disagree with any of this. But give these kids a chance!
I wholeheartedly urge the IHSA to understand that racing at Detweiller Park in November is an unbelievable opportunity and honor that is specifically reserved only for IHSA State Championship qualifying individuals and teams. The statement, “There are ample opportunities during the year for coaches to bring their athletes to Detweiller Park to compete in a race and receive a time on this course,” fails to see the importance of the culmination of a months-long training plan finally tested on the preeminent Illinois Cross Country course. Racing there in September simply is not the same as racing there on the first weekend in November.
What about all those other young men and women who are part of the actual state series roster yet do not race on Saturday? A state series roster allows for 12 student-athletes. With the new policy in place on the weekend of the State Championship, five deserving competitors from each team will be denied the opportunity for one last race. Isn’t education about offering opportunities to these young men and women? Aren’t extra-curricular activities and sports about offering that chance at personal glory – to create a memory and hold it dear for a lifetime? While the new policy assuredly frustrates and angers many coaches around the state of Illinois, the greater actuality is that it denies opportunity to young men and women, and this situation, beyond a shadow of a doubt, must be changed.
James G. Janota, NBCT
English Teacher / Assistant Department Chair
Assistant Cross Country Coach
Neuqua Valley High School
(630) 428-6000, x4719
Bravo, Mr. Janota!