“Runners take your mark. …
The above sequence, capped by a blast from the starter’s pistol and runners bolting from their starting blocks, might be the casual track fan’s perception of the job of a meet official/starter. Seems simple enough, but it’s not always as easy as the 1-2-3 the good ones make it seem.
Mike Powers is one of the good ones.
“I call it organized chaos,” Powers says of the process involved in organizing, coordinating and running large meets like an invitational, sectional or state competition in a sport that features 18 different events.
Meet officials oversee and orchestrate like a good conductor.
Powers, who has been at it since the mid-1980s, was honored last winter with induction into the Illinois Track and Cross Country Officials Association Hall of Fame for his work that has included high-profile meets including championship events for USA Track and Field, the NCAA and Illinois High School Association.
Any Fox Valley parent with a kid who has run high school track has probably seen him in action.
A West Aurora High School math teacher, who is also an assistant football coach, Powers plans to retire from teaching at the end of this school year.
“I’m going to do things I have a passion for outside of teaching,” said Powers, a Millikin University grad from Oakland, Ill., who taught and coached at Pecatonica High School (1977-80), Morris (1980-84) and St. Charles East (1984-2006) before coming to West High.
He will continue coaching football and working track meets, trying to groom new officials.
“I got started (officiating) when I was at St. Charles East,” he said. “There were no coaching openings. They had the nice indoor (track) facility and I volunteered to work as a timer (pre F.A.T.) It was horrible and I did not like it.”
Talking to the meet starter, he learned what it would take to get licensed and make some extra money while staying involved with one of the sports he loved.
“I pole vaulted and high jumped in high school and college,” he said. “I wasn’t very good, but I enjoyed the competition.”
While track officials may not catch as much grief as their counterparts in basketball and football, they have much longer days with large meets that can run anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.
“We wear all kinds of hats — clerk, starter, instructor,” he said. “I’ve had several friends who wanted to try it come out to one meet and never come back.”
Noting that track officials get their share of parent complaints, he said he has, on occasion, had to ask them to leave the facility.
“And I’ve kicked out a coach before,” he said.
Long active in the Illinois Track and Cross Country Officials Association, Powers started a track clinic that teaches new officials the skills they will need to do the job.
It will likely be his legacy.
“We have 400-plus registered track officials in the state but the average age is close to 60,” he said, noting that he hopes the clinic will be valuable in pumping new blood into the job.