The Case For The Steeplechase In Georgia Track & Field

Eli Griggs from Mill Creek punched his ticket to Nationals at Marietta on Saturday

Spring break seems like a fun time to bring up a lighter topic. So I want to present an argument for adding the steeplechase to Georgia track and field. To my knowledge, New York is the only state in the country that lets high school kids compete in the steeplechase as an official event on the state meet circuit. I remember being at a coaching clinic in 2014 or 2015 when the coaches from Saratoga Springs were here in Atlanta explaining to us how it was a good thing for the sport in New York when they added the steeplechase, and I've really been a fan of adding it ever since. It's an event I compete in at the college level but never really thought about the possibility of adding it to high school until that clinic. When I was a part of bringing the state track meet to Berry College for a few years, the original schedule I wrote had the 2000m steeplechase there as an exhibition event. Unfortunately I never really got a chance to fully float the idea to the GHSA rep in meetings. Politics.

But we've seen the event done at the high school level for years here in Georgia. Back when the Coaches Invitational happened at Georgia Tech, they would offer the event. Rumor is the meet is coming back next year which would really be a good thing for all of us, not just because it could bring back the steeplechase. We lost the event for a couple of years, but fortunately Marietta has stepped up and hosts the event at some of their meets, most recently the GA Spring Break showdown. I know at least Eli Griggs is thankful for that, as he was able to qualify automatically for the Outdoor National Championships because of his winning time at the meet on Saturday. Andrew Rothwell from Whitefield and Katie Casto from Brookstone also got qualifying spots. And if you take a look at last year's national rankings, you'll see that kids are running the event more and more. An event that basically used to only be run in New York and a couple of random meets is gaining traction in states like Texas, Alabama, and Kentucky now too. So why should Georgia hop on this train too?

I'd say the biggest thing that having the event does is offer kids another opportunity to qualify for Nationals or set/break school records. Those things matter to kids, and some schools have some very old records on the books that it's cool to get the opportunity to add to the list. But I'll offer an even better argument here. It gives the kids who do the event a potential edge in college recruiting. When I attended the USATF Level 1 Coaching Clinic several years ago, one of the best throws coaches in the state was one of the speakers. Mike Judge of the Throw1Deep club was explaining to us why he trains all of his throwers in the hammer and weight throw as well as the shot put and the discus. He said that if his kids can show they're already good at those events that most kids don't pick up until college, it gives them an edge in college recruiting. The same argument could be made for the steeplechase. It's an event that people compete in at the college level, and it's often referred to as one of the easier events to score in on the distance side. So if you give kids that chance to show they're capable of running it, and perhaps more importantly not scared of the hurdles, then it could give them an advantage with college recruiters.

But maybe the best reason to add this event is because it provides so much more fun to our sport. Obviously it's important to take things seriously, and while the kids who do cannonballs and flips into the water pit make me chuckle, those are not the kids who I am arguing for. That stuff is dangerous and overall not good for advancing the sport. However, the water pit still provides a unique aspect to the event that we don't see in any other area of our sport. And it brings with it an element of fun to the sport that really gets the crowd into it. Everyone gathers in that area because it's a wild card. It can truly affect the outcome of the race if one athlete is perfect over the water jump and another athlete can't quite handle it as well. That kind of element happening once a lap really is enjoyable for all, and can still draw a crowd even if all athletes take it seriously and are properly prepared for it. But not only does this make things fun, it provides for some really cool photo ops, as evidenced below by these photos by Dan McCauley

I know there are arguments to be made against bringing the event to Georgia. The main challenge being the lack of steeple pits. But there are more steeple pits than most people realize, actually. And if we made the event a staple, then you'd see it competed much more frequently. There are safety concerns, of course, but that's also part of sports. Discus can be dangerous. Pole Vault can be dangerous. And I have seen kids break their arms just doing regular hurdles. Safety should not be the main deterrent. Obviously we don't have the facilities at every region and sectional meet, so I would offer up am argument that we should just have it be a time qualifier for state. Or something like the top 12 performances qualify, just for this one event. It's a little unique, but the event itself is a little unique. Of course that would require that the State meets are all held at locations with steeple pits. Or maybe we should host the State meets all at one location instead of four different locations. But that's an argument for another day.