GET READY TO GO!
The track starter is that individual who is really the focus of attention. We often tease officials of various sports about the importance of “not being seen.” While we certainly don’t want to be the main attraction, the start of ALL races centers on the starter’s ability to get the race safely and legally underway. From personal experience, one never really gets over the trepidation of something “going south” during any portion of the running sessions. To help alleviate some of the fear, a comprehensive checklist and “bag of tools” might help. The philosophy and demeanor of a track starter is the subject of another discussion.
It is remarkable the mere weight of material a starter can carry to a track meet. Most of the essential devices are not that large or heavy, but there are many implements necessary to ensure a successful experience.
Obviously, one needs a reliable gun. Reliable is not a relative term. Just as we get used to our rifles and bows for hunting, we need to “know” our guns, PLURAL. Even the best gun will present problems occasionally, AND it will do it at the most inopportune time. Pack a second gun (of any caliber for which you have shells) and keep it in working order.
Most of our rural meets are hand-timed and require us to work with the head finish judge at remarkable distances. To do this, we need to carry a whistle – something that can project a recognizable sound. If the meet management elects to work “silently,” you simply don’t employ the whistle. But it certainly might come in handy if your recall pistol fails to fire.
We need to get off the ground to start most of our races. Many/most schools will offer one of their plyometric training boxes, but three-step stools are cheap and easily transported. They are most problematic when we must drive the family car which has little room for the stool. If the stool has exposed knobs for leg stands, experience tells us to cover these ends to prevent sinking too far into the natural turf. A soggy spring can generate a nightmare for getting the stool out of the ground. We can use the example of the retirement homes and cover the pegs with used tennis balls (one slice per tennis ball works wonders).
EAR PLUGS! If we aren’t using head-sets, get a bunch of ear plugs. Enough said.
Some of us are fortunate enough to have sound systems. Those systems come in handy when starting races with long staggers. For most of those staggered starts, we should set up relatively, far away from the runners – sometimes 80 meters from the nearest runner (Actually, we are to be equi-distant from each and every runner). But those speaker systems are pricey, bulky, heavy, and a bit touchy when the weather gets bad. We don’t have to worry about packing our voices, so this reference isn’t always so important.
The addendum to NSAA registration packets suggests we carry a well-equipped tool kit to accommodate the rule change regarding inspection of blocks. Since we usually contract our meets and communicate with the meet directors, it would be prudent to have a conversation about this issue with the director well in advance of the meet. Our knapsacks are already quite robust and seldom will we see only one brand/type of starting block when we arrive at the starting line. Spikes can be of various types. Stabilizing bolts can be of either standard, Phillips, or torx heads. Since these blocks usually sit outside all spring, rust is an ever-present issue, and may require a penetrating lubricant to free frozen threads. The point of this conversation is to be aware of the need to guarantee useable starting blocks for all in every race. Carrying a universal tool kit is a bit of stretch. Politely ask in advance to have the blocks ready to go when you get there.
Speaking of tools though, that gun (those guns) of previous reference will need to have accompanying tools. Needle-nosed vice-grips, picks, lubricant spray, and other apparatus would be advisable items to carry. They really don’t demand that much space in the bag, and their mere presence can relieve a lot of stress.
CLOTHES! LOTS OF THEM! When the weather turns – more importantly the wind – the starter is the one individual who can’t get out of the direct wind. And, the starter will usually be the one facing the wind (How often do we have the kids run into the wind?). Do you want a hat with a stabilizing string? Do you want to tie the hood of a sweatshirt tightly around the hat? Would a stocking hat work better? The point is: You might need a hat and you don’t want it rolling down the track in advance of the runners. Be ready. You can’t control the weather and you probably won’t be the one who postpones/cancels the meet.
If a meet is hand-timed, visibility is imperative. An orange starter’s sleeve should be available in those instances. Those are available in many sporting goods stores and many starters know someone who can sew one – actually, tailor-made.
As stated earlier, eliminating stress is paramount to a successful meet. Since we are all (presumptuous?) registered with the state association, we should access the NFHS Officials Manual. On page 30, we can find a section describing the process we will assume during the meets. From these pages, one would be well-advised to establish a checklist – 1) for packing our vehicles, 2) to prepare for each race, and 3) to pack up our equipment for the trip home (It’s embarrassing to call the A.D. to ask if anyone found your gun.).
Finally, network with other starters to hear of any items/protocols they have included on their lists. These conversations are informative, reassuring, and are good ways to nurture friendships. The starter does not/should not work in a vacuum.