PIAA meet celebrates best of state’s track and field

The best-of-the-best among Pennsylvania’s track and field stars will converge onto the campus of Shippensburg University this weekend to compete for the state’s ultimate prize: PIAA gold medals.

The meet is a spectacle unto itself, with athletes, coaches, officials and fans bustling between events, herded by a public address announcer like a field of lambs by their sheep dog. It may look like chaos, but it is in fact a sophisticated series of well-orchestrated events, guided by a dedicated crew of officials and statisticians.

Track and field athletes have the challenge of competing amid this chaotic atmosphere, while results from other areas of the track are being announced, even as their own events are still happening.

For some, it’s a solitary endeavor, the goal ultimately to compete against oneself, seeking a personal best, which just may be enough to end up on the medal stand. There are favorites: top seeds with the pressure of what must seem like a world raining down on them.

For others, it’s the gravity of being part of a team, like the leg of a relay, with every handoff meticulously timed. One wrong step, missed grip or break in concentration can derail the hopes of not only one athlete, but four.

Whether competing alone or as part of a relay, every athlete brings with them their own hopes, as well as those of their family, their program and their school. They may not get the same kind of recognition or fanfare as sports that are held earlier in the school year, but the accomplishments are just as significant.

Track and field represents the most fundamental of competitions, those testing basic physical ability: speed, distance, height. Success is measured in fractions of a second and hundredths of an inch. The difference between gold and silver, or medal and no medal can be the tiniest of margins.

Physical prowess is just a part of an athlete’s success — training regimen, nutrition, equipment, mental toughness, dedication, even adrenaline … all can contribute to performance, one way or another. Even weather, and an athlete’s reaction to it, can have an impact.

So when hundreds of high school students take to the track and field this weekend, no matter what their ranking or reputation, anything can happen. That’s what makes it so fun and exciting to watch.

That controlled chaos becomes the backdrop of a student-athlete’s ultimate opportunity — to test themselves on the state’s largest stage.

When the meet is over, some will have medals, some may go home disappointed; but all should leave with a valuable lesson in concentration, competition, and pushing oneself to do and be their very best. That is something that will benefit every athlete, far beyond their high school careers.

And in that respect, everyone leaves a champion.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.