Lauren Waterbury, (#400), a junior from MICDS, finished second in the Class 3 200 meter run Saturday at the Missouri Track and Field Championships.

Rick Graefe

Ryan Banta has the patience of Job. Or maybe he’s just stubborn. Either way, the Parkway Central girls track and field coach is a man on a mission. Someone else would have quit running into the brick wall that Banta is trying to break down. “My mom didn’t raise a fool. She taught me that if there is something right and noble and needs to be done then you carry the torch,” Banta says.

He’s one vote away from giving the Missouri track and field coaches a change they’ve wanted for years—a change the Missouri State High School Activities Association Board of Directors has already rejected.

Banta has spent the fall collecting signatures for a petition. The petition is to change the way athletes qualify for the state championship meets in Jefferson City. Currently the only way for an individual to qualify for the state meet is to finish in the top four at the sectional meet in their event. Sounds fine and dandy. But what happens when the fifth fastest kid in the state is lumped in a sectional with the four athletes who are faster? What then? As it stands, the fifth finisher is patted on the head, told it’s too bad and sent home all while slower athletes in less competitive sectionals are allowed the privilege of competing at state.

That doesn’t sit right with Banta, nor does it sit right with the track and field coaches across Missouri. At their annual coaching clinic this summer, the track and field coaches of Missouri, all 330 of them, voted unanimously to change the qualifying guidelines for the state meet. What the coaches want is for the top four finishers to automatically advance but allow for additional qualifiers if they hit a certain time, distance or height. Banta calls it a “sectional plus one.” The purpose is to allow athletes who hit those benchmarks the opportunity to run with the best and not be penalized because their event just happens to be loaded in their sectional. “We’re taking care of areas that have a talent load in certain events,” Banta says.

Banta has gone back 10 years in his research to see how many kids would have been added to the state meet if the system had the proposed tweak. He found that every corner of Missouri would have been better represented. “I found 156 schools that would have been positively affected by this at the state meet,” Banta says.

The qualifying standard Banta has proposed for the “sectional plus one” is the average time, distance or height of the all-state finishers over the last three years in each event. That means in order to advance to the state meet a sprinter would have to hit the average time of the eight athletes who stood on podium in that event over the last three years. His research also indicates that the state meet would not be overburdened by extra athletes. One of his many cohorts on this project is Ladue assistant coach Tim Levine. Levine built a state track meet schedule down to the minute and found this could be easily done without major reconstruction to the current meet. “There is two and a half hours of stand around time at the state meet anyway,” Banta says. “The time is already built in.”

Despite the unanimous vote by the coaches and approval of the Track and Field Advisory Board, the MSHSAA Board of Directors rejected this proposal. It described its reasons in a 37-page document. “There were many coaches who were flabbergasted,” Banta says.

Undeterred, Banta has taken to the appeals process. He and many others have collected signatures of principals from schools across the state to petition for this change to be placed on MSHSAA’s 2012 Annual Ballot, which is voted on by the state’s athletics directors. The petition and proper paper work are due by the middle of December. It takes 2/3 approval for the measure to pass.

If it does, the “sectional plus one” system would go into place starting in the spring of 2013. If the measure doesn’t get the required approval, Banta will go back to the drawing board and try to figure out how to get the best athletes in the state of Missouri to the state meet. He’s nothing if not a patient man.