Biggest of prep events goes off with nary a hitch

It’s the largest, one-day high school sporting event in the Upper Peninsula every year.

The U.P. Track and Field Finals staged May 31 at Kingsford High School featured 775 to 800 participants, attracted 1,600 spectators and involved about 110 volunteer workers.

“It’s always a challenge (to host),” KHS athletic director and meet manager Al Unger said. “But people who know the sport know the size of the event and the effort it takes to hold it.”

The event has the potential to be “catastrophic,” he said, with weather delays and/or computer software issues chief among the possible problems.

But aside from problems generated by temperatures in the mid-80s, the latest event went smoothly. It also ended about 30 minutes earlier than scheduled.

That’s a tribute to Unger and his staff and workers, the athletes themselves and Superior Timing, which recorded times, distances and heights for the event.

Contrary to what may be popular belief, Unger doesn’t start planning each U.P. finals event as soon as the previous one ends.

That’s because the meet has been held in Kingsford since “1995 or ’96” and Unger has been its head for about 10 years since former director Don Edens left it in good shape when he retired.

Letters detailing meet job responsibilities go out about seven to 10 days prior to the event to key indviduals, just as a reminder. Unger said about 75 percent of the volunteers return every year.

Once the meet starts, it’s up to everyone involved to make sure it goes off without a hitch.

The heat this year caused a problem, but Unger and his staff were prepared ahead of time after checking out the weather forecast.

The concession stand had about 100 cases of bottled water on hand for athletes, workers and spectators alike. Numerous ice machines at the site were full, and a medical tent staffed by a sports medicine professional and the high school nurse was set up.

Several distance runners – particularly girls – required assistance during or after their events due to the heat. They were sprayed with water, handed ice bags and/or taken to the medical tent for assistance.

“Mosquitoes might have been worse than the heat and wind,” Unger said.

Cleanup after the Saturday event begins immediately, with garbage cans removed and some tables and tents stowed in a storage facility on site. KHS custodial crews then complete the cleanup on Monday.

“By Monday afternoon, you wouldn’t have known a meet was held here,” he said, adding the site’s football field was largely unaffected as athletes preferred to find shade under the stands instead of “camping out” on the grass.

After the meet, Unger writes down some notes about how things went and areas where the event could be improved.

“About 95 percent of our (after-meet) comments are positive,” he said, adding a golf cart may be used next year to assist hadicapped or elderly spectators get from the surrounding parking lots to the stadium entrance.

Unger said the meet is “always very stressful” but this year’s event was a “great sucess.”

“Especially since the (KHS) boys won,” he quipped. “That’s icing on the cake.”

Kudos to Unger and his staff for their efforts in staging the event. What they did was impressive.

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is cremsburg@miningjournal.net.