by Edward Joule
March 30, 2003 - The time for the annual Triple Crown Road Race Series in Staten Island is once again approaching. I have participated in these races over the years, I have observed how they are organized and administered, I have heard and read the opinions, and I have come to this conclusion.
Jack Minogue, the Staten Island Advance sports section columnist and organizer/chief administrator of the Series, doesn't get it.
The directors of the Series' constituent races-most specifically, The Advance Memorial Day Run's Bob Palisay and the Pepper Martin Run's Michael Brennan and Mike McVey, don't get it. Their apologists in the running community, such as New Dorp High School running coach Jeff Benjamin, don't get it, either.
What none of them get is that the Triple Crown Series is still, after all this time, awash in administrative problems that not only detract from the race experience, but threaten to turn the Series and its events into irrelevancies. The runners are voting, literally, with their feet-except for a bounce in the Memorial Day Run's numbers last year, probably due to post-9/11 patriotic fervor, the races have shown steadily declining participation. (Other races on the Island have generally increased their numbers during the same period.) What they also don't get, despite Mr. Minogue's newspaper protestations to the contrary, is these problems are not isolated incidents that could happen at any race, but are built into the very structure and conduct of the events, and will not be rectified unless the race committees admit this and act to improve that structure and that conduct.
Mr. Minogue, if one goes by his columns, seems to feel that runners and others should have little beef with the Series-anyone can drop a spindle full of runners' finishing tags, resulting in mixed-up placements, and any race can run out of refreshments on an unexpectedly hot day. That is true, and these have been isolated criticisms of the Series' races. What he does not acknowledge are the deeper, non-accidental problems the Series continues to be beset by. Accidents have nothing to do with the Advance Run's race-day registration volunteers still not knowing that team designations are supposed to be allowed on race day, in accordance with a compromise supposedly reached with Island running clubs. (That's a communications problem.) They have nothing to do with the Ronaldson Run's not following the suggestion to change its application language to indicate that firefighter awards will be designated by house, not ladder or engine company, so as to keep firefighters from the same house winding up on different teams. (This leads to constant arguments at the awards ceremony.) And they have nothing to do with the Pepper Martin Run's stubborn refusal to alter its application to indicate that race day registration is actually allowed. The race accepts such registrations, but its application implies otherwise, listing a "final registration day" a week before the race. This confuses and angers runners, especially those from outside the North Shore neighborhood where the race is held, who each year who wonder if they can enter the race that day. And that's not even mentioning the fairness of competition issue involved when your race material says you'll follow one practice and you actually follow another.
Mr. Minogue and the race directors also seem to think that the criticisms leveled at them are the product of a few cranky individuals looking for attention. That contention is not only false, but arrogant. While those such as Andy Burek, Ruth Fairbrother, and Glenn Ribotsky have been the most vocal, they're hardly the only ones who have brought up such issues. Representatives from almost every running organization on the Island, and a number off-Island, have at one point or another tried to reach the principals about these situations. The attitude of those putting on these races has been dismissive at best, which, of course, contributes to and prolongs problems, and this has become a major issue in itself. Even after a meeting of race directors and running club officials was finally held in the Fall of 2000 to address race difficulties-a meeting it took almost a decade (a DECADE!) to get the directors to agree to-many of the problems discussed at that meeting continue to exist, despite promises on the part of the race directors to make modifications. It has gotten to the point that not only do many of the best road racers no longer do the Series-its competitive aspect has fallen off sharply over the last several years-but the clubs themselves, disgusted with the lack of progress, may now be taking other steps. The Stapleton Athletic Club and Clove Lakes Track Club no longer bother to send athletes to the Triple Crown races. The Staten Island Athletic Club, which has allowed the Advance and Mr. Minogue to use its annual awards dinner to distribute Triple Crown Series trophies, is discussing severing that relationship if the Series cannot be satisfactorily reformed.
A rumor has developed that the principals involved in the Triple Crown races would love to get out of the business; it's been whispered that they find putting on the races a hassle and would love to withdraw from it if they could. While I doubt the rumor is true, I see how the negligence with which the Series is handled gives it credibility-who else would act this way except those who didn't care about making their races as fair and runner-friendly as possible.
If this rumor IS true, than I suggest the race directors admit it gracefully and bow out so that the events can be taken over by those who care. There is hardly a shortage of such people-the Island has plenty of other races that run well and about which there are few complaints--and such individuals would be glad for the chance to make the Triple Crown better. (Many have offered their services and expertise to the Triple Crown committees in the past, usually for free, and have been rebuffed-another example of that arrogant attitude.) If the rumor is not true, than I suggest now is the time for the race directors and Mr. Minogue to act before their events and Series become completely moribund.