MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Although there has been some audible grumbling about Spring Fling event prices, the $10 all-day tickets and $5 parking fee are not new.
Three years ago, TSSAA and Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce officials agreed to make a change from charging $8 each for the morning and afternoon sessions to a flat fee of $10 to save fans money. The parking fee has been in place for at least five years.
"We felt like it would be better for the people coming to the events to pay one fee and have an all-day pass that gets them into any of the five events being played," TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said. "Years ago each person who wanted to go to more than one session wound up paying $16 for the day, plus parking. The way it works now saves every person $6 per day, and I think most folks believe that's a bargain.
"I know we had one parent from Hixson who pitched a fit the first day and refused to pay and wound up leaving without watching her child play in the tennis tournament, but that's the extreme case."
The prices are set by the Chamber of Commerce as reimbursement for the $350,000 annual fee it pays to the TSSAA for the right to host the Spring Fling. Three years remain on the current contract before the TSSAA will reopen the bidding process.
"The TSSAA makes no money off the tickets, parking or concessions," Childress added. "We have the contract with the Chamber of Commerce and that covers our expenses for officials, awards and hotel rooms for staff members.
"The parking and concessions fees are the only way the high schools that host those events make money to pay for the people who work those events."
Track format change
The TSSAA made a format change to the events lineup of the state track and field meets this season, and while most coaches across the state were in favor of it, several Chattanooga-area coaches made it clear they felt it hurt a strong collection of local sprinters.
To get in step with the national high school federation, the TSSAA moved the sprint events closer together, which makes it tougher for individual sprinters in multiple events.
"This was something that when we polled our coaches, 70 percent of them said they wanted to make the switch," Childress said. "When you have that much of a majority of your schools saying they want something, we have to go by their wishes, so we made the change this year.
"It's the result of a three-year study from a committee of coaches and track officials, and the feeling was most coaches didn't want teams to be able to win a team state title by having one dominant sprinter."
Signal Mountain sophomore McKenzie Ethridge, who won the Class A/AA 100- and 200-meter dashes last season, had trained to add the 400 in hopes of sweeping the individual sprint events this spring. But after the change was made, she opted not to run the 400.
"It's just too tough. There isn't enough time between events for anyone to run all the sprint events anymore," Signal Mountain coach Beverly Blackwell said. "And that's a shame, because if you have a really talented sprinter who can do multiple events, like a couple from our area, it's hard to showcase them."
Similarly, Tyner freshman Alexis Wilson is one of the state's top sprinters, winning the 100 while also qualifying in the 200 and anchoring the 4x200 relay. Any thoughts of her attempting to run every sprint event were removed by the rules change.
"From a fan's standpoint, track is a tough draw anyway," Tyner coach Steve Plumlee said. "It's tough to sit through a whole meet, but if you have an athlete capable of running all the sprint events, that tends to bring people out to watch because everybody loves to watch speed.
"They've made it tougher for one athlete to really shine in multiple events, and I think it's tougher to attract a lot of people to really come out and support the sport."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...