A Message from the President/Chair
Supporting Our Base
Whenever the weather starts getting warm, I can’t help but get some butterflies, thinking about the outdoor track and field season. Anybody who has ever competed in track and field, on any level, remembers what those pre-race jitters feel like, what the track smells like – in my case, more like cinders than Mondo – and most importantly, what the friendships with your teammates, coaches, competitors and officials were like.
For teenagers, the track season usually starts with their school teams. But for the tens of thousands of kids who compete in the summer – and for those younger than junior high – USATF’s local and regional organizations are the ones carrying the load. Anyone competing in an all-comers meet, where everyone from teens to masters takes a shot at glory, has probably been signed in by a clerk who has some kind of USATF Association affiliation.
USATF has more than 2,500 clubs nationwide, but the “invisible hand” in all of this is USATF’s 57 Associations that drive our national participation and membership.
It is through our Associations that local and regional track and cross country meets, Association road running championships and race walk competitions are organized and run; it is through Associations that athletes qualify for national championships on the youth level; it is through Associations that nearly all USATF members join the organization. Associations are the front door to USATF and the Welcome Wagon to new members.
Due to sheer numbers, youth programs are the cornerstone of Associations’ constituency bases. Even in our youngest age groups, participation is up 36 percent in the last 10 years. That’s a lot of membership applications to process.
One of the things that makes Associations great is that each one reflects the interests and concerns of its regional and local constituency base. The USATF New England Association looks a lot different than USATF Southern California.
But anyone who has served as a volunteer at USATF for many years, and who has religiously attended Annual Meetings, can also attest to the fact that Associations not only look different from each other. They also operate much different from Association to Association. Some Associations have paid staff, others rely on one or two volunteers to keep them afloat. Some have relatively mature websites and are fully in the digital era; others do business solely by phone and hand-written forms.
Regional quirks and identities are great, but huge variations in professionalism and service between Associations is something that USATF as a national body must help to minimize. Clearly, a volunteer staff of two cannot do what a paid staff of four can do, and just because somebody is paid does not mean they provide professional service. I personally know that the amount of time and the quality of effort put in by volunteers makes them professionals many times over!
That said, USATF must work collaboratively to establish certain minimum, standard practices, and then help all Associations ensure they have the tools and knowledge they need to employ those practices. We are, after all, a national governing body, not a national observatory. We need to govern, not just watch. We annually hold an Associations Workshop to enable Associations to get together and share best practices, but this is a year-round effort.
As a federation, we are only as strong as our local bases. It is through Associations that the stars of tomorrow plant their roots; where everyday runners chase personal goals and where masters athletes look for the next set of age-group records.
We all know there is strength in numbers. If you are reading this, you are probably already a member of your local or regional USATF Association. I encourage you to recruit the parents, volunteers and athletes you know who might not be to join you as active Association members. Don’t just join. Volunteer. Help.
And most important, join us in thanking and celebrating everyone who makes our Associations as strong as they are. Together, we can help them get even stronger.
Yours in Track & Field,