If you ever visit the gymnasium at Half Hollow Hills High School West, you may see a banner hanging in the gymnasium with my name on it that reads “NATIONAL CHAMPION.” Although maybe somebody should climb up a giant ladder to sew an asterisk next to that phrase. That’s because when I won the Nike Indoor National meet my senior year, I wasn’t the only guy in the country, let alone on Long Island, calling himself the champ.
While I went down to Maryland to race in one national championship meet, Charles White of Garden City made the much shorter trip to The Armory to compete in another. While Charles ran 4:11 to my 4:16 (excuses: 1. tactical and 2. flat track), I rationalized to myself that I was the true national champion because I won our two head-to-head matchups earlier that season. Deep down, however, I felt like I was a fraud — there was a compulsion to let the two or three teachers who feigned interest in my accomplishment know that I wasn’t the sole wearer of the crown. Thankfully, come the outdoor season there would only be one national meet, and thus, one true national champion — and it wasn’t close to being either of us!
The National Scholastic Athletics Foundation started hosting an outdoor national meet in 1991, and for years this was the undisputed post-season national meet. Early versions of the event were sponsored by Footlocker, adidas, and other brands, although my generation (2005-2009), would recognize this event as Nike Outdoor Nationals, and can probably picture the backpacks if they close their eyes for a moment.
But when some higher-ups made career moves over to New Balance, the meet came with them. From 2010 until 2019, the New Balance Outdoor National meet continued to partner with NSAF to host all the best athletes in the country in Greensboro on the blue track of North Carolina A&T University.
When the pandemic hit, New Balance and NSAF parted ways. Now, New Balance hosts its own national meets (this year indoors was at The Armory and outdoors was at Franklin Field). Meanwhile, NSAF and Nike have partnered up again to host their own national meets (indoors was at Ocean Breeze and outdoors was at Hayward Field).
Combine those with the Brooks PR Invitational, which has been a smaller, invite-only outdoor meet since 2013, and the brand new adidas Outdoor Nationals meet that started this year in Greensboro, and it’s a confusing time to be an elite high school runner. Especially if you are from New Jersey, where confusion abounds — there’s a fierce debate over what to call Canadian bacon and the state meet is called the Meet of Champions, which was also held this weekend.
This past weekend I covered the New Balance National meet with CITIUS MAG and did our After The Final Lap postgame show. While there, I was explaining the current landscape of high school post-season national meets to my wife and she offered up a solution. Her idea was essentially this — have a single national meet with the different shoe companies drafting teams and competing against each other.
In theory, in a world where there was a single governing body that was solely invested in what was #GoodForTheSport, then that’d be a lot of fun. However, the goal of these events is to sell shoes. These are huge marketing activations with very large budgets with one goal in mind: to win over an extremely valuable demographic and convert them into loyal customers for years to come. The next few years will be interesting as the battle to become the premier national championship will continue. For kids who like free stuff, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it sure as hell makes following the exploits of our burgeoning domestic stars tricky.
And in not-quite-exclusively-high-school-national-championship news, the USATF U20 Championships will also be taking place in Eugene this weekend with the top two finishers in each event having an opportunity to represent the United States at the World Junior Championships in Colombia later this summer.
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