EUGENE — One thing is certain when 2,289 high school athletes arrive at Hayward Field this weekend for a three-day, six-classification track and field meet that is scheduled to last nearly 33 hours.
"It's going to be busy over there," Sheldon High head coach Erin Regali said. "It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out."
All classifications will be combined at the state meet Thursday through Saturday for the first time since 1971, but back then only three classifications were competing at Silke Field. Now it is twice as many classifications and nearly 3,000 entries.
Hayward Field has hosted the state meet for the big schools since 1975, but the smaller schools were added to the schedule this year after Western Oregon University no longer wanted to host that meet.
"Many people wanted to try it. This has been suggested over the years, 'Can we get everyone to Hayward?'" Oregon School Activities Association assistant executive director Brad Garrett said.
"This is an opportunity to try it out, and with the University of Oregon's support, they said 'Give it a go.' We will see what happens."
Friday is the only day that will feature all six classifications with the 6A, 5A, and 4A meets beginning from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. before the 3A, 2A, and 1A meets conclude from 2 p.m. until 10 p.m. The 3A, 2A, and 1A meets will fill the schedule from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Thursday, and the 6A, 5A, and 4A schools have Saturday to themselves from 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m.
All six meets will still be held over two days, as in the past.
"For the most part, the only thing that changes in the schedule is the time of day the meet is contested," said Siuslaw coach Chris Johnson, who was part of an Oregon Athletic Coaches Association track committee that helped consult the OSAA about the schedule. "The difference for 4A, 5A, and 6A is that we start earlier on Friday."
Garrett said it fit schools better to have the small schools open on Thursday with the big schools' starts remaining on Friday and Saturday.
"It makes sense because many small schools don't have school on Fridays and a number of them will have already had graduation," he said. "So Thursday and Friday works out good for them and we keep with the traditional Friday and Saturday for the big schools. We wanted to try to maintain the feel of having a small-school championship and big-school championship and not get to the point where we were running a 1A through 6A meet. That would not make a lot of sense."
Last year, the 6A meet began at 10 a.m. on Friday with the girls javelin and boys pole vault. This year, the meet begins with the boys long jump at 9:30 a.m. The 6A boys 3,000 meters will start at 10:26 a.m. Friday, about an hour earlier than the first final on the track last year. Last year, Saturday's schedule ran from 10 a.m. until the last final started at 6:10 p.m. and this year goes from 9:30 a.m. until 5:41 p.m.
"I think the schedule is pretty much the same for us," Regali said. "On Friday, we start a little earlier and we are done a little earlier. Saturday is pretty much the same."
The biggest change will be in the relays that now feature timed finals, instead of qualifying heats.
Two finals will be run in each relay, using qualifying times from district meets to determine the lanes and then the times will be matched up against one another to determine the order of finish.
"The reason we do that is because relay prelims eat up a huge chunk of time and we didn't want to finish at 11 o'clock Friday night or start at 8 in the morning, so there are some sacrifices," Garrett said.
Springfield's boys were disappointed to realize they would be in the first heat of the 4x400 relay after winning the Midwestern league title in 3:31.54, which is 10th out of 12 teams. The Millers cruised to the district title by more than two seconds with that time, which is nearly two seconds slower than their season best.
"That is our bummer because our guys didn't have to run that hard to win the 4x400, and now they are in the slow heat, so I don't like that," Springfield coach Scott Touchette said. "Now they have to go out and throw down a time, but it is too bad they don't get to run with the eight fastest teams. That should fuel their fire."
Johnson pointed out that no regular-season meets run preliminary heats in relays. Some coaches have complained that it could be a disadvantage to run in the slower heat, but Johnson noted that the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships have timed relay finals and Oregon's women won the 4x400 championship from the first of three heats.
"Ask any athlete if they want to run a 4x4 preliminary and then run the next day; my kids were jumping up and down when I said there was no preliminary," Johnson said.
"We run timed finals all year long. My kids at the end of the district meet without having to do prelims were tired, so anything we can do to give them a break for a couple events is a positive."
The OSAA has committed to having all classes together for the next two years and then will evaluate it before the new classification cycle begins in the fall of 2014.
"I think it's awesome," Johnson said. "We have maybe the greatest track venue in the world in Oregon, so it never made sense to me why we could not find a way to do this before. If I were Powers or Mapleton, I'd rather have it at Hayward Field. It is a celebration of track and field."