RICK GRAEFE / JOURNAL The star of the girls' 100 meter dash at Friday's Suburban West Track Festival.

Rick Graefe

Ryan Banta doesn’t know whether to jump for joy or be frightened out of his mind. The Parkway Central girls’ track and field coach has mixed feelings on the mild winter and dry, hot start to the spring season. The coach part of him is excited beyond belief. The mild winter meant longer, harder training sessions outside that just haven’t been possible when the temperatures are below freezing and there’s ice and snow on the track.

As a resident of planet Earth, he’s wondering just how wonky we’ve made our environment that the winter felt more like spring and that spring has felt more like summer. He’s genuinely concerned about melting ice caps, polar bears and where, exactly, our environment is taking us.

But that didn’t keep him from taking advantage of the warmer winter. In fact, when Parkway Central hosts its annual Henle Holmes Invitational Thursday and Friday, Banta is expecting a record shattering day at a meet that is regarded among the best in the state. “There could be some memorable performances at Henle Holmes,” Banta says.

The reason being that every other track program worth its salt did what Banta did and spent the winter off-season taking advantage of the mild winter. And the proof is in the results. Even though the track season is still just a few weeks old, athletes from every corner of Missouri are posting times that are much faster than in previous years at this point. “Kids all over the state are running times they normally run in May,” Banta says. “We might make time go backwards they’re going to be running so fast (at Henle Holmes).”

The teams that take part in the meet are a who’s who, from Ladue, University City, Lafayette, Parkway North, Kirkwood, Maplewood-Richmond Heights and others. And all of them are ahead of where they were last year. It’s an exciting proposition if you’re just a track fan. For Banta, a certified track diehard, the possibilities are intoxicating. “The talent we have there is among the best in the state,” Banta says. “Some of these kids will be running national record times (later in the season).”

With so many kids putting up so many good times, it would appear that it’s the perfect time to tweak Missouri’s antiquated track postseason. As it stands, only the top four athletes in each district meet are allowed to advance to the sectional meet. At the sectional meet, where the district winners from two meets are combined, the top four advance to state. What rubs many coaches, including Banta, the wrong way is that the fifth fastest kid in the state can get stuck in a loaded district or sectional and never get anywhere near the state meet. That athlete is eliminated along the way and slower athletes from weaker meets are given an opportunity to run at the state meet. With the help of some of his colleagues, Banta has put together a modification to Missouri’s system that would allow additional athletes to move beyond the sectional meet if they hit a qualifying standard. The measure is going to be voted on this spring by the high school athletic directors in Missouri.

Banta already has jumped through more hoops than a show pony to get this modification on the ballot. He left no stone unturned as he sent out 500 packets explaining the benefits of the modification Monday morning to every athletic director in the state. His hope is that it will receive the three-quarters vote needed to make it official for the 2013 track season. “This is only going to benefit the kids,” Banta says. And unlike the warm winter, he has no mixed emotions about that.