I admit it.
When I first started covering track and field over 10 years ago I was an invitational snob. The practice continued for the majority of the past decade, but that finally began to change last season.
My favoritism to invitationals was for many reasons. First, the competition was always better. There is a reason Class AAA public schools are usually a little better than most Class AA schools: more athletes for the choosing. Same idea with some of the bigger track and field invitationals. The more kids participating, the better the opportunity to see higher heights, faster times and longer distances.
Invitationals allow you to see a handful, sometimes two handfuls, of local teams. It's like going to a super Wal-Mart and collecting groceries and a new wardrobe in one quick swoop.
Another benefit of bigger invitationals is seeing athletes on an all-weather surface. All-weather tracks and runways are becoming more of the norm these days, but still not every school has the benefit of one. Many coaches from these schools can use the invitationals to get district qualifying times for the their athletes and give them a feel for a bigger atmosphere, like the one athletes will see in the postseason, including at the PIAA Championships at Shippensburg University.
Invitationals give a rare look to teams outside their district, and sometimes outside the state. The Bald Eagle Invitational last week had teams from Maryland and New York in the field, and from several districts within Pennsylvania.
Invitationals can sometimes be like a convention. It's an opportunity to talk track and field with people with differing opinions. It gives athletes a chance to socialize with their peers from surrounding areas. Socializing amongst track and cross country athletes is often different than the trash talking that takes place between the lines of the football field. Competitors often cheer on their opponents if they are nearing a record-breaking time or distance.
But with all the benefits of invitationals, there is STILL a place for dual meets on the track and field schedules in the spring.
I often thought the same thing during wrestling season. I wondered if dual meets were necessary. Wouldn't participating in a tournament every weekend be a better show for everybody? But then I attended places like Muncy and Hughesville when the two rivals met each other on the mat and quickly changed my tune.
Same with track and field.
Sure, both sports end the season with individual championships and few remember who won the team title at the PIAA Championships last year in either track or wrestling.
Athletes and coaches, however, still have a fire in their stomach for dual meets.
It came into focus on Tuesday in Lewisburg when the Green Dragons hosted the undefeated Williamsport boys. Those, like my former self, who think dual meets don't matter didn't see the frustration on the face of Williamsport's Devon Fisher when he injured his right upper leg while triple jumping. They didn't see the Millionaires senior remove his red headband, that was probably doing a better job of keeping Fisher warm on the cold late April day than collecting sweat, from his forehead and spike it to the ground after telling coach Sam Belle he couldn't continue and run the 200-meter dash and 1,600-meter relay because the pain was too much.
They didn't see Williamsport's Caleb Belle fight through a sore foot and come up with a one big jump in the triple jump to collect three important points for the Millionaires before coach Belle told him to shut it down.
They didn't see Lewisburg's Brandon Smith gut through the 110 high hurdles for just the second time this season because of injury.
They didn't see Lewisburg senior Marcus Meslener break a school record in the discus during his final home track meet with a PR that was 16 feet farther than his previous best throw.
They missed the Lewisburg girls winning its 148th consecutive dual meet and wasted a chance to see Williamsport's Rachel Fatherly who won the shot put at the Penn Relays two days later.
They missed Lewisburg boys coach Mark Sundberg telling his athletes to line the inside of the track during important races to give their teammates encouragement and telling many of those same kids to rush over to the pole vault area to make sure the Green Dragons had enough points to give the Millionaires their first loss. It was like watching a crowd swarm to the final hole of a major in golf.
My nose was kept straight ahead while watching all of this. It was no longer stuck in the air because the days of being a track and field invitational snob are over.
Jake Felix can be reached at email@example.com.