Track services

Athletics: with low supply and high demand, it is not always easy to find stopwatches for competitions

Mark Pierce, right, uses the camera with guidance from Mark Dennett during an athletics meet April 26 in Farmingdale. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Heidi Bernier was unlucky.

The forecast was poor for last Wednesday, so Waterville’s athletic director began making phone calls to reschedule the college track meet the school was hosting.

She called Lawrence’s track coach, Tim Alberts, to get his timing services for Tuesday. He was busy, but he suggested other timekeepers who could help. Bernier has tried each. Busy. Busy. Busy.

Waterville finally hosted the encounter – with timing in hand.

“I called six (timers),” Bernier said. “And I hit with the six.”

Bernier’s situation was hardly unusual. There are only a handful of timing companies offering their services for track meets in the state, so athletic directors know they need to run to book them early and then pray for the time to hold. .

“We got our schedule, (Winslow AD) Jim (Bourgoin) emailed Tim as soon as we got it,” Winslow coach Ken Nadeau said. “Saying ‘Hey, we’re having a meeting on such and such a date, we’d like it to be on that date, are you available?’ It’s a scramble. I’m sure all ADs do the same thing.

And if the weather turns sour, it’s an uphill – and often losing – battle to find another free date on anyone’s calendar.

“You’re very lucky if you’re able to reschedule and find someone,” Bernier said. “They’re usually reserved to do that.”

“For our meeting at home, it was during the April holidays. It was pretty easy to find a time where I could work with the clock I had,” said Messalonskee athletic director Chad Foye, who will also host a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship tie at the end of the season. “If we had to move it to another day, it would have been difficult. … You don’t want to put the kids in a dangerous position at all, but you do your best to make sure the encounters go through.

Timekeepers don’t expect bad weather either.

“We kind of cover the whole state, but the problem is when there’s a rainy day,” said Dave Jeffrey, who runs Brewer Timing Service and was the first to bring a timing system into Maine, ending manual timing in the university. meets. “It’s not like we open a day and say ‘We’re going to move all the competitions to that day, because we have that day free. We are all busy every day. … It wouldn’t be a good business plan to give up the meetings in case someone cancels.

Finding timers has been difficult for a while. Jeffrey’s Brewer Company is one of seven companies in the state providing timing services to schools, along with Alberts’s Lawrence Timing System, Mark Dennett’s Lakers Track Club and Timing, Diane Fournier’s DLF Timing, Ron Kelly’s Downeast Sports Timing, Tony Myatt’s Pine Tree Race Services and Brandon. Timing Tyler by Richards. Some companies have multiple systems and may have more than one encounter – Jeffrey, for example, may have four at a time – but that still leaves low supply for high demand.

“There are quite a few meetups that happen on a daily basis, from middle school meetups to high school meetups. And even then, there are collegiate meets, a few every year,” said Dennett, who coaches throwing and walking in Maranacook. “It definitely adds up. … There are times when it becomes frantic, and I am asked for two or three meetings on the same day.

Mt. Ararat athletics coach Diane Fournier helps set up timing equipment at the finish line of a five-team meet Thursday at Topsham. Bill Stewart/Kennebec Journal

The demand has only increased as the need for timing systems has gone beyond high school.

“Over the past two years, it’s come to this degree because people understand that they want their kids to have the best opportunities,” Alberts said. “I raced in the era of portable devices. It’s just not accurate. … So, I think what’s happening is that a lot of elementary (and) middle schools are saying, ‘We need cameras when we meet. And what they don’t understand is that there are only a limited number of cameras.

“Everyone is using the timing system, and there aren’t enough systems,” said Kelly, who is also Scarborough’s head coach, and whose company runs about 12 fixtures a week. “Jeffrey has three or four cameras, and they go there every day. High school, college, etc. We are at the maximum.

COVID hasn’t helped, as schools and conferences have attempted to stagger competitions to limit the number of athletes competing.

“The pressure has gone from needing one resource at a given track meet to having three different resources to cover the same number of kids,” Hall-Dale athletic director Chris Ranslow said. “We needed a ton of extra resources all of a sudden. … It really pushed me as sporting director to prioritize building the calendar early this spring.

There are barriers to simply increasing the number of people with access to the FinishLynx system, which is the sophisticated camera and software system that all Maine timers use. The biggest hurdle might be the cost; between cameras, clocks, wiring, dashboards, other gear, and upgrades, a system will likely run someone looking to time over $10,000.

“Personally, I think it’s more the cost. … Few people can drop $14,000,” said Alberts, who said he charged about $550 to work in high school. “I think it’s more the money than anything else. It’s not hard to train someone to help you. …It’s just a matter of getting that initial fee, paying it all, and going from there.

Marty Thornton records the finish times during a high school track and field meet April 26 in Farmingdale. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Jeffrey said finding people with the time to do this is the biggest hurdle.

“It’s expensive, but it’s not so expensive that people can’t afford it. What’s hard is the time, the kind of schedule you have to do it,” Jeffrey said. “You can’t do it as a full-time business with no other income. There just isn’t enough money there. … (And) you have to have the bottom of the track. You think of all the things you would need, he’s a pretty unique person.

“We could have systems, but you have to have the right person who has the right schedule where they can be free to go anywhere,” Kelly said. “You have to have the right person who has a free schedule in the afternoon. If someone is flexible and works for themselves, yes, they can earn a pretty good salary working four or five matches a week.

The timing impacts the schedule, but the people who do it are happy to provide the service, wherever they can.

“I like it. I coached for 25 years…(and) it kept me in the sport,” Jeffrey said. “I like the idea of ​​going places and ensure that their meetings go smoothly. This is what we do. We cleaned up athletics in the state of Maine.

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