No Blocks At Sectional Meets Raises Concern

Some hot topics have come to the forefront ahead of the NJSIAA State Sectional meets scheduled to run this weekend, Friday, June 4th, and Saturday, June 5th.

The biggest issue that has come up is the NJSIAA's decision to not allow the use of starting blocks at any of the state sectional sites, something coaches and athletes argue will hurt performances and is a safety concern. 

Many are also calling for the return of six medals up from the three that will be awarded to the top finishing athletes at sectionals. Social media posts began surfacing on the topic during the week leading up to the meets.

Sectionals Information Article

These issues will not come up at the Group Championships (June 11-12) where starting blocks will be permitted and medals will awarded to the top six finishers in every event.

NJ MileSplit has reached out to the NJSIAA as well as coaches and athletes around the state for their reaction to these issues. Those comments are listed down below.

Al Stumpf, the NJSIAA Track and Field Interim Tournament Director, issued the following statement -

"In the postseason meeting after the 2019 season it was decided that blocks wouldn't be permitted at the sectionals and that was put into the Regulations. The host schools cited damage to their track and the amount of time to get kids in and out of the blocks. I understand that coaches are upset, but I can only go by what's in the Regulations and it's still a level playing field at each site. Coaches are welcome to bring up this issue at our end of the season meeting and we will examine it.''

Shamali Whittle of Hamilton North, who is ranked No. 1 in the state this season in the 200m and the 110 HH, weighed in with his thoughts-      

"I think it's not really fair. Blocks is a big part of what we do as sprinters. And especially seniors, where this might be their last chance for a PR. But we gotta work with it. All 8 lanes will line up the same way.''

Sean Robinson, Morris Hills boys coach- 

"The start from blocks is a fundamental component of all track and field sprint events (≤ 400 m). There are many reasons why block starting is a "fundamental component" of our great sport; but the one reason we should all be concerned about including the NJSIAA should be about the betterment of all student-athletes involved in the state tournament.  Proper block starting in all sprint events allows track officials to better hold all athletes accountable to the rules involving False Starting;  I strongly believe and understand that forcing all sprinters to start a state championship race without blocks opens the door to more movements on the starting line that can and will be interpreted by many as a "False Start".  In our sport we don't get 3 strikes; the athlete gets one infraction=DQ= Out of the State Tournament completely - Groups and potentially MOC. I am greatly concerned that really good and committed student-athletes will be nailed with false start infractions since they are moving in the "Set" position partially due to not having the block to gain balance and support.  Blocks are fundamental to our sport, just like a basket is to basketball or home plate is to baseball it can't simply be removed.''

Jason Russo, Haddonfield Girls Coach - 

"In short I think both policies are disrespectful to our sport, and more importantly our athletes.  For the guidelines to ask our athletes to perform at the championship level with less equipment than they've been permitted all year is disappointing.  These athletes have worked tremendously hard all season(year), in the most unique of circumstances we could ever imagine, and should be permitted to do so in the same fashion as they've practiced all season.  And their successes should be celebrated and recognized as they always have been - with a corresponding medal for their top 6 finishes.  For some athletes, the absence of blocks is the focal point in preparing right now - which is a shame.  They should be preparing as they always have."

Dave Szostak, Bernards Coach

''The medals, I don't lose sleep over. It is what it is. But as a coach not having blocks not only risks injury, especially in the hurdles where step counts will be off without blocks, but also increases the likelihood of some of our best kids not performing at their best or potentially getting DQD. And I haven't seen any reason why they aren't allowing blocks other than "it's in the regulations". Why? Teams have always brought their own blocks to the outdoor sectional meets and used them, no issues. Why the sudden change? At the group level they say don't bring blocks because the host or NJSIAA provides them. But we have never had an outdoor sectionals where blocks weren't allowed. Not since I started coaching anyway (1999). Teams bring their own and use them. No issues. I was in PA over Memorial Day weekend and saw highlights of their state meet on TV. And let me tell you, they make it a big time event that honestly puts our state meets to shame. I am sure they would never even contemplate putting top notch performances at risk. They have TV coverage, podiums, kids stay in dorms at Shippensburg, facilities are top notch. Our meets are small time by comparison and this decision seals the deal. If a host school doesn't want their track to get wear and tear, they shouldn't host the meet! It would be like a football team not allowing cleats because they don't want their field torn up. If that's the case, don't host! And I am not convinced that one meet will do that much damage anyway. That takes years and years of use. We have hosted sectionals on more than one occasion and we saw no extra damage.''

Brock Silvestri, Middletown North Coach

"The decision by the NJSIAA to eliminate blocks and cut down the medals to 3 places at the sectional meet seems to be a decision that many coaches were unaware of and disagree with across the state.  I have been vocal about my frustrations because as a coach I represent my athletes and team and I'm expressing my frustrations for them. It's not fair to the athletes. I know their response has been to many people, "coaches should read the regulations".  To be fair there are mistakes and changes in the regulations each year including this year again. Many coaches assumed they meant no blocks provided at sectionals like every other year before this. Then blocks would be provided at Groups and MOC's. In speaking with our meet director recently, we were also told that the decision was made because using different blocks creates an unfair advantage to schools that use different types of blocks. If this is true, these unfair or different aspects can pertain to many factors in various sports, including track and field that would need to be changed.  Athletes throw different implements, run and train in different shoes, use different poles for vault, etc. Where do we stop if we start making these "disadvantaged"changes as they say with starting blocks.  These athletes are allowed to use blocks in every meet of the season except for the state sectional championships. Doesn't make any sense.In regards to the medals, if their response to coaches on the blocks is read the regulations, then they should follow their own words. Page 11 of the regulations states "Individual medals for the first six(6) places in each section and each group". Can the NJSIAA change that now without being voted on or brought to a meeting? The regulations also originally had in the start time as 3:30 Friday but they changed that as well.

Jeff Koegel, Scotch Plains-Fanwood Girls Coach

"This may cause sprint and hurdle events (and the meet) to be decided by someone slipping at the start.  By this time of the season, people know how to set their blocks and can do so in under 30 seconds. At most, they will be saving 30 minutes by doing this. Yes, it isn't going over well.  Would they ban kicking tees in the football playoffs after allowing them all season?''

Ben Samara, Princeton Boys Coach

"There can be some understanding here with the medals due to the pandemic and finances being impacted with the cancellation of last year's meets. But there is absolutely no logical explanation for the removal of blocks at this level. It puts our athletes in a terrible position, ruins steps for events like the high hurdles and increases the risk of a false start or mishap unnecessarily derailing the seasons of some elite NJ athletes.

The decision to remove blocks and to stick to that decision despite the outcry is upsetting but not surprising. I think the bigger picture here is more disconcerting, which is the consistent lack of forethought and consideration for the athletes by those overseeing track at the highest level in NJ, as well as the consistent unwillingness to modify or change incorrect policies when provided with overwhelming feedback. Coaches and athletes in our state have felt dismissed and unheard for years. "That's just the way it is" has become a running joke amongst coaches in the state, as we know that's the answer we will almost always receive when we try to help improve the quality of these meets for our athletes and teams. This is just another unfortunate example of what coaches and athletes in this state have had to deal with year in and year out.''

Austin Holman, Elizabeth Boys Coach

"To not allow blocks at the end of the season is not fair because these kids have been working on them all season. And now at a qualifier when you are supposed to show peak performance you take that away. That is awful. When these decisions are being made there needs to be actual coaches present. In every other sport in our state, coaches are represented as chair people and coaches are reached out to for clarification and input.  Athletic Directors and officials can not be making decisions that coaches do not agree with.''

Martin Booker, Willingboro Boys Coach

"It is ridiculous. We are  taking away the sprinters and hurdlers ability to have a safe and productive Championship  campaign. God forbid if there is inclement weather. The sprinters could experience serious injuries. This is not a dual meet. The sprinters should have the proper equipment that will provide safety and efficiency for which he/she has trained for all season.''

Marty Holleran, Metuchen Coach

"It's weird, odd, and makes no sense. It needs to be corrected immediately.''

Wil Rivera, South Brunswick Boys Coach

"We practice what we want the kids prepared for at meet time. They are being denied that opportunity with this situation. A spring with no limitations was the goal, so after a canceled sprint last year, this year we will reward only the top 3 with medals! With entry fees going up! Come on, man.'' 

Tim Mooney, former longtime Ridge Coach, now an assistant at Hillsborough

It's unfortunate that a decision everyone knows is poor cannot  be changed.We need to improve the quality of the state level meets. 

This article will be updated if more information arises or more quotes are finalized.