Now that the IHSAA cross country season has officially come to a close, we wanted to post an interview with the current IATCCC president, Rick Sluder. Rick is the head girls coach at Columbus North high school, but also was elected to head the IATCCC for two years. Below is our interview with Coach Sluder.
1. What is the IATCCC and what is its role in Indiana high school cross country? Rick Sluder (RS)- The Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches is our state's representation for both coaches and athletes. We exist to honor student-athletes and coaches, represent our coaches to the other associations of sports in the state, the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (IIAAA), and the IHSAA. First- we are the body that designates the actual term 'All-State'. The IHSAA actually just names students as medalists. They will openly tell you the IHSAA does NOT name anyone "all-state'. We also survey the membership at least every two years and try to solicit the direction coaches would like to see the sport(s) follow and what topics are important to them. Part of my role is to communicate that to the IHSAA when we present bi-annually. For example, two years ago we presented on topics ranging from class sports, the calendar, moving from 20 to 25 medals in cross country, getting the entry rules changed for cross country and track (moved to 18 for cross country and individuals entered in 4 individual events being able to be added as alternates in future rounds of the state tournament. We also presented a few years ago for our sport getting 8 alternates instead of 6 for relays several years ago). 2. What is your role in the IATCCC and what other coaches are in IATCCC leadership positions? RS- I am in my second year of a two-year term as the President of the association. The President's role is generally to communicate between the IHSAA, the IATCCC, and our member coaches across the state. The President also generically helps organize and direct the various committees we have continuously operating. Those include areas like the academic all-state and all-state teams, the clinics we administer, the HOF committee, the all-star teams, and similar committees. I do not serve on each of those committees- but technically we make sure they are staffed and communicating to the Association. Jay White from Portage is the current Vice President. Andy Belloli from Fishers is the Secretary. Thomas Crum from Bishop Dwenger is the Treasurer. 3. Can you discuss a little history of the IATCCC? RS- The overall coaches' association dates back to 1955. It really became more active starting in 1971 when it incorporated to the current IATCCC. Marshall Goss took over the Hoosier Relays as the meet director and became a driving force in the association. We have ebbed and flowed over the years but have always offered COY, Academic All-State, and All-State recognitions for the coaches and athletes. We have offered a clinic for T&F or coaches' education since the 1960's and offered a separate cross country clinic for over 30 years. 4. What are the most important current issues that the IATCCC is working on/dealing with? RS- Our constant focus is the current and future state of the sport. Are we adapting for the best interest of the student-athlete? Are we helping to attract and retain good coaches. Are we providing the best development opportunities to coaches at our clinics? Are we actively seeking out the best talent and best ideas of the coaches in our association? We probably have much less connection or influence with the IHSAA than the average coach believes we do. I will say that Paul Neidig has been great to work with at the IHSAA. He listens to our concerns and generally seems to lobby for what we see as the best interest of the athletes/sport. Overall, our largest issue is a general lack of participation by our coaches in the association. We average about 25 coaches coming to meetings. That includes about 6 or so retired coaches. We have ranged from 15-38 coaches attending over the past two years- with the 38 being at the clinic. Interpreting those numbers- about 15 active coaches are in the position of directing the IATCCC. That is not healthy and, admittedly, gives the appearance that we are running things in secret. All coaches have to do is show up. It's fun being in the know. We cannot give away coaching positions on the Track and Cross Country All-Star teams. We have trouble getting speakers at clinics form our own high schools. If we have roughly 800 members yearly- we are not averaging 10% participation yearly. This is exactly why it looks like about 10 people "control" everything. We may be advertising for help in the best way- I'll take responsibility for that. But if someone truly wants to get involved, all they have to do give up three Sunday lunches. I promise- if you show up you'll get input and have a say in the directions we take.
Our largest current issue with the IHSAA will be looking at the levels of the tournament and the length of the season. That's discussed below. 5. Can you help clarify/interpret the IHSAA's 75% participation rule that lit up our message boards? RS- I am going to sound like an apologist for the IHSAA and that's not my intent. But after having some conversations directly with the IHSAA about this issue- let me interpret it the best I can. First, it is important to understand a couple of underlying themes. Remember, the IHSAA creates many rules that have to govern many or all sports and then separately for team versus individual sports. So the "random" (that was a comment I remember from the message boards) percentages were set with the intention of all sports. This was the easiest method for the IHSAA. Second, the spirit of the rule was to prevent teams from poaching athletes at the last minute from other teams or outside groups like club sports. I think there was a lot of misconception about this rule. Waivers were pretty easy to come by as long as the student-athlete was being legitimate in attempting to participate in the sport. Anything beyond the athlete's control was granted. I have been lucky enough to speak with Paul Neidig about this topic. He gave examples of waivers: a soccer/cross country athlete had two Saturdays rained out in cross country and another meet canceled. A waiver was granted. A stress fracture- waived. Let's remember the two teams a couple of years ago who got in trouble- they brought kids straight from soccer who had not participated at all for the XC teams- they came out after soccer ended. They did not apply for a waiver either. Both of those schools were at 1833 and 1979 student populations that season. They were not small schools trying to field a team. That seemed to be the misconception on the message boards. This rule was not aimed at preventing athletes from multiple sports- it was meant to protect athletes who had put in the time and commitment to the team during the season and not to a club or another team- only to lose their spot at tournament time. One area that I totally agree with the IHSAA is that coaches need to be aware of the rules that govern our sport- whether we agree with them or not. There are so many rules that coaches are not knowledgeable about that could impact their sport. (For example, I love the "QUICK! Get off the mat" advice a coach yells out at the state meet in track to their high jumper.) 6. How can coaches become more involved in the IATCCC? RS- Involvement in the IATCCC is both welcome and easy. Any member can show up the council meetings. They are held yearly Sundays in May, September, December, and at the IATCCC clinic on Friday. This is the perfect opportunity to get filled in on upcoming events, topics, issues, and ask questions/have your voice heard. They generally start at 12:30 for meeting with committee meetings held before that. You can volunteer for committee while attending. We are volunteer-driven organization and thus need a constant supply of help. I can totally understand from the outside that there is this misconception that just a few people run everything. I can tell why that seems to be the case- literally no one else shows up or volunteers. We average about 25 members per meeting and several of those attending are retired from teaching/coaching. With several hundred coaches in the state- it would be awesome to have 50-75 people showing up at different meetings to be involved. 7. Can you update us on the most recent news that the IHSAA has shared with the IATCCC? RS- The largest item that the IHSAA is considering is altering the tournament format in some direction. The IHSAA (and me personally which really means nothing!) is concerned that so many spots were left unfilled at the Sectional and, consequently, many runners moved on in the first round. According the IHSAA's numbers, there were enough member schools that we could have 2,765 runners compete in the Sectional if each team entered filled ONLY 7 spots. On the boys side- we filled only 2,314, or 83%, of the possible spots. On the girls' side- it was, again in my opinion only- a terrible 1,992 runners. That is only 72% participation. Further, only 81% of boys' teams fielded full teams with girls fielding 67% full teams. I know there are many reasons for this but it is still very concerning to me. 8. Is there anything else about the IATCCC that you'd like to share with our viewers? RS- I think there are many misconceptions about the IATCCC that many coaches have concerning our overall role. I have had coaches complain about the IATCCC- that "they" do not do enough, "they" try to pass agenda items with the IHSAA that favor them, or that the IATCCC operates in secret. Coaches have expressed this to me not even knowing that I was the vice president for two years and now the president. They were so unaware of the IATCCC they did not even know who represented them. That is our fault as an organization- but there is also blame on the coach for not getting involved enough to look up website. Please- we welcome participation! Please join. We will have our big meeting at the clinic before the rules meeting and then our next meeting will be on May 3rd. It will advertised on the IATCCC website with an agenda and times.