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A Message from the President/Chair

A year in review and a look to 2011

It is hard to believe that the 2010 Annual Meeting already is two months behind us. When the holidays bleed into seemingly endless weeks of snowstorms, it can be jarring to realize the 2011 competitive season is already here.

Before we get too far into the new year, we would be well-served to remember what we accomplished in 2010. For all the drama that the year brought, it was also a year in which we made tremendous progress as an organization, in both real terms and in terms of strengthening the ties that bind our great, disparate sport together.

Our Board became very engaged in reaching out to our constituencies, soliciting your feedback and responding in ways that convey the value of the different parts of USATF while also staying focused on the key goals of our Strategic Plan. Although we do not and cannot have equity in how we fund everyone, we most certainly can have a tone of respect and professionalism in all of our dealings.

Our first year of Challenge Grants is one way we were able to put additional dollars toward traditionally under-funded programs in youth, masters and race walking. Within those three categories, we also saw tremendous achievement.

It was a year of innovation for our Youth Programs. Two Youth events were webcast, including a highly successful subscription-based webcasting of the Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships. Youth Athlete of the Year Trevor Barron broke barriers by becoming the first race walker to win the award. We have high hopes that Trevor and fellow young walkers Tyler Sorenson and Maria Michta will continue to elevate our accomplishments in race walking

For USATF masters athletes, record-breaking has almost become old hat – but I can tell you that we never tire of it! Two women in particular carried the mantle of excellence – thrower and Masters Athlete of the Year Oneitha Lewis and distance runner Linda Somers Smith. I know the thought of lacing up the competition spikes is enough to give me nightmares these days, so the fact that our masters athletes on all levels continue to do so is a testament to their determination and love of competition.

Our distance runners are gearing up for another run at World Championship and Olympic medals. Having Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi place in the top 5 at the 2010 Boston Marathon, and Shalane Flanagan's third-place finish in New York show we are not backing down from the success we've had recently. Our women's team bronze at the World Cross Country championships showed the depth of our talent as well. It's amazing to think that the men's and women's Olympic marathon teams will be selected less than one year from now, in Houston!

If there is one mantra that we live by as a federation, it is "The Athletes are why we are here." I am proud to say that in 2010, we once again put the athletes and our support of them front and center. Support takes many forms – financial, administrative and psychological. Athletes always have and always will have the lion's share of USATF expenditures, and in 2010, roughly $11 million went to athletes. (An additional $1.1 million from the USOC was distributed through USATF.) At the National Office, we have added at least three staff positions to better serve athletes on the administrative side. But none of that matters if our organizational relationship is not one in which athletes feel supported in a psychological and moral sense; to know that we are truly working for them and not vice-versa. Particularly in the last half of 2010, we made incredible strides toward making the USATF-athlete relationship stronger than ever. We have engaged each other rather than antagonized each other, and the joint sessions we held at the 2010 Annual Meeting were by all accounts the best we've ever had. And we're not done yet!

Of course, having the funds to direct toward athletes, youth, masters and everyone else is the biggest way we can help our sport grow and become successful. In 2010 we signed a new sponsorship with BMW, which also sponsors the USOC, that is the beginning of what we hope will be a stronger and more fruitful collaboration with the USOC and their sponsors.

But overall, one area in which we were really behind the curve in 2010 was in attracting and signing new sponsors and new sponsor revenue. I can tell you that our entire board is galvanized behind the goal of correcting this shortcoming. This is not something we can leave to just one or two staff members – the task is one that we all must embrace. From the Board, we are all engaging our corporate contacts to open doors to potential sponsor revenues.

We also will refocus on acquiring new members as well. In 2010, we were back over the 100,000 member mark. But to be honest, our membership levels should be many times that, when you consider how many people run track and participate in road races in this country. Membership is important to this organization because grass-roots support of our sport is what generates TV ratings; it is from those grass roots that our next Olympic gold medalists come from; members are volunteering, officiating and advancing the sport on all levels; and it is members who are the most ardent supporters of Team USA. But even when you look at it strictly from the standpoint of a ledger sheet, growing membership makes sense. With individual memberships costing as little as $20 and several staff members devoted to member services, membership does not currently produce an overwhelming level of net revenue. But the more members we have, the more member benefits we can offer – it's economies of scale. The more members we have, the more attractive we are to potential sponsors. The more members we have, the more people we have visiting our online portals and the more people we have buying USATF merchandise. But we have to attract members, not just wait for them to knock on our door. We need to, and we will, incentivize people to join USATF.

The theme here is growth. Growth is what USATF and the sport needs in 2011 to become different, better and more vital than we have been in our recent past. By gaining more sponsorship dollars, marketing our sport more effectively, completely remaking the way our TV broadcasts present track and field, and supporting our athletes with medal potential (as well as those in the "talent pipeline"), we will finally give USATF the new direction we need to make a step up the American sports food chain.

In order to do that, we need a CEO with the vision, professional skills and political acumen to lead us there and to work in concert with our Board to ensure our shared vision is always in focus. We are continuing to narrow the field of CEO candidates and will have a new leader in coming months. I need to once again thank our search committee and its chair, Steve Miller, for the countless hours they've already put in and the many hours they have ahead of them. Speculating on the search and tossing out the occasional rumor seems to be a bit of a parlor game within track and field right now, and we understand that people want to know what goes on behind closed doors. As has been the case since the CEO search started, we will not put deadlines or timetables on this process, and we will not make it a public political campaign. We are going to do it right, since this is not something we plan to do again in two years. We are focused on success in the long term.

Together with everyone on all levels of the sport, and with renewed unity in our leadership, we will not settle for less.

Yours in Track & Field,

Stephanie Hightower
President/Chairman
President@usatf.org

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