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Trying to keep track

Sports usually brings out passion.

That can come from the participants, the coaches or even scribes.

Rod O’Donnell, the boys track coach at Parkersburg High, has done his utmost best through the years to keep track and field as relevant as possible.

He still pens a monthly column for RunOhio entitled “Keeping Track.”

I spoke with him last week and he brought up a lot of valid concerns, especially when it comes to not knowing exactly what the future holds with the continued COVID-19 pandemic.

“The thing about it is where it stands this is going to have long-term effects on a lot of things,” he said. “Have to run damage control and make sure those long-term effects are as small as they can be.

“Track is a unique sport. You have to keep it on the radar screen. It can’t disappear and kids kind of forget about it.”

He has a solid case in point.

“We’ve lost a junior high season now,” O’Donnell noted. “They’ve been away from track for over a year.

“Collegiately, I’m very concerned what’s going to happen there. There’s just not going to be any money. There are ways of easing the pain.”

An Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Famer (2005 inductee) and a Marshall University Athletic Hall of Famer (2009), O’Donnell pointed out how many spring sports athletes are only getting partial scholarships.

“Do you have to pay a football coach $7.4 million and don’t have any money for anything else or pay him $3 million and have more money to support other sports,” O’Donnell chimed.

He also noted how track programs could cut back on travel expenses and stay closer to their immediate area. He also figures smaller rosters are likely.

“There are ways to do this,” he added. “It’s going to take ingenious thinking and for people to truly believe in the reason we have college sports. That affects high school if you don’t have the sports on the next level. That takes away the motivation for them.

“We have two Division I schools (in the state) with no men’s track that has affected track. It’s disturbing when you think about some of the avenues this could go on the collegiate level. That affects both the Olympic and high school level.”

The coach understands the vast majority of prep athletes aren’t going to college to compete and think about Olympic dreams, but he sees the future of track walking on a proverbial tight rope.

“High school sports are positive,” O’Donnell stressed. “I know there are negative things that happen, but it’s a positive experience for kids and you want that to continue. Allowing them to have that positive experience, you just hope and pray it continues to happen.”

It appears as though only time will tell what the future has in store for track at all levels of competition.

For coach O’Donnell, he’s staying positive and focusing on what he hopes are brighter days ahead.

“This spring would’ve been my 50th year of coaching,” he said. “The first spring since I was 12 I didn’t go to a practice after school either as an athlete or coach. It’s hard on you.”

Contact Jay Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com

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