The Staten Island Runner

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November 14, 1999  

NYRROArs   by Glenn Ribotsky

An ongoing commentary on issues in the Staten Island and metropolitan road racing community, complied through the auspices of the New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation.

This column installment is comprised of the edited-for-length text of a letter just sent to the New York Road Runners Club Board of Directors and top administrators, detailing situations in running here on the Island and in the larger realm of NYRRC activities and influence.

November 15, 1999

To: The New York Road Runners Club Board of Directors

Now that the summer is over (and the hectic pre-marathon period is past) it seemed an appropriate time, in light of the difficulties the series has had over the last few years, to review the Staten Island portion of the NYRRC Summer Evening Series for the summer of 1999, and to place developments there within the larger context of developments at the NYRRC.

Much to the gratification (and the surprise) of many, the Series did improve significantly this past summer; at least some of the outstanding issues presented to the Board of Directors and the Club Council over the last several seasons were (at long last) addressed. The course was accurately re-measured to a properly marked 5 kilometers; the administrative principals from Events Management Group (specifically, Vic and Joanne Navarra) were present at every race, and took supervisory control over other personnel (in marked contrast to their absentee habits of the previous two years), helping to ensure an accurately scored race; and the amenities, from awards to refreshments, were significantly improved.

There are still some areas in which the Series could be better—a timing clock for the runners’ perusal was only available some of the time (specifically, it was absent at races #2 and #3); more effort could be made to familiarize newer runners with the course before the start of each race (at the very first race, the top two runners went significantly off the course and complained that they had not been informed about the turns), and so on. These do not fall into the category of things requiring major restructuring; a little tweaking here and there would do. The larger question as to whether the Series can survive remains open--attendance was spotty, and very few local runners participated; most chose to patronize the competing weekly Thursday night Twilight Series. (As has been previously discussed with you, the goodwill that the Navarras have squandered through problems with this Series and other Staten Island races in the past may keep most local runners from attending the event as long as Events Management Group is the administrator. As they are suspicious of EMG and of the reasons NYRRC continued awarding EMG the Series in the light of the reported problems—the speculation centering on the idea that NYRRC must keep the goodwill of the Navarras and their network to ensure a smooth NYC marathon starting line--many runners here still wish a change in that administration, and are unlikely to participate otherwise.)

We are glad to see that some effort has been made on NYRRC’s part to respond to these concerns; the question on many minds, though, is why it took so long for some response to be made. The problems with the Series began being reported back in 1996; when informal phone calls and letters were ignored, a formal letter and petition were drafted, signed by many active Staten Island runners and all local club presidents, and sent to the NYRRC administrators and all Board members in January 1998; when specific questions about the Series administration could or would not be answered before May that year, a boycott of the Series was started by local clubs and the competing Thursday night races instituted; with problems continuing that summer, another letter was sent in September, then an additional one with proposals for improvement (and the suggestion of the involvement of another administrator, specifically Warren Ring) in January 1999. There was anger and disappointment with the perception that the NYRRC was turning a deaf ear to the concerns of local runners, many of whom were long-time NYRRC members; a number of individuals did not renew or resigned their NYRRC memberships in protest.

This brings us to the larger context—the NYRRC’s difficulties over the past several years in the areas of public and customer relations. The dissatisfaction with the Staten Island Summer Evening Series is only one of a number of ongoing situations in which the Club has exhibited public and member relation skills of a lower caliber than would be desired in a non-profit service organization. The disgruntlement over the mechanisms through which local runners could gain entry into the New York City Marathon; the ongoing lawsuit brought against the NYRRC by a group of wheelchair racers over their treatment at the Marathon (we are informed by a number of sources that had the NYRRC opened up a good faith discussion with a number of the principles, the suit would never have been brought); the ongoing questioning of the club’s fiscal situation and policies; the dissatisfaction over how candidates for Board of Director seats are chosen—all of these are recent incidences in which, as one Club Council member put it, “the Club puts up a sandpaper wall”. We concur that the Club’s administrators have not taken the lesson, as shown through various national scandals, that secrecy in an organization considered a public trust (which is what NYRRC is, despite its private non-profit status) often gives the appearance of shadiness (even where none exists), and failure to respond to public concerns only exacerbates the resulting erosion of trust. In order to maintain its membership and broaden its sponsor base, the Club must improve its relationship with its members and with the rest of the running community, and develop the ability to act quickly to circumvent difficulties. It must also remember that it boasts the most erudite and educated running membership in the world, and that its members who are not employees or Board members also have many talents and ideas to contribute. (The Club has often given the impression that it believes the masses to be asses—we specifically remember a Board member claiming that in no way should candidates for Board spots ever be nominated by members, as that would result in “kooks” who could garner enough signatures being placed on the ballot—except that one person’s “kook” is another person’s visionary, and it should be up to the membership to sort it out.)

Some steps, however tentative, are being taken in the right direction—the recent announcement of a new policy allowing NYRRC members in good standing who race six or more fully scored Club events in the preceding calendar year to receive guaranteed entry into the succeeding year’s Marathon is one example. Yet even this step, representing what could only be a win-win situation for the Club—it will undoubtedly attract some new members, as well as more race entries, and it certainly provides an obvious customer-pleasing “perk” of membership—has been far too long in coming; it had been suggested in Club Council sessions and advocated for by various clubs (as well as by this organization) for a number of years. We hope NYRRC continues to make strides in such areas as taking advice from the Club Council (it has been rather dismissive of Council opinion in the past, and that certainly earned it the ire of a lot of local activists), in opening up its Board of Director positions, when vacant, to a wider segment of its membership, and in using emergent technologies to speed its analyses and responses. The Club still has a long way to go in burnishing its image, but perhaps it is finally seeing the need to sweep out some of the dustier corners. As the metro area’s runners’ advocacy organization, we will, as always, continue to monitor the Club and its activities, to bring matters to its attention, and to attempt to enjoin it in dialogue with those without whom it would not exist—the rank-and-file runners.


The Executive Board
New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation (NYRROA)

Glenn Ribotsky
Chair, New York Road Race OmbudsAssociation
84 Vogel Loop
Staten Island, NY 10314