About a decade ago, a former president of the Unites States spoke of a thousand points of light. If there was anyone this applies to and any group this applies to, it is the NSSF. The NSSF was the brainchild of a few romantics who believed that they could help change the sport of track and field for the better. After fifteen plus years, the NSSF is, arguably, the most significant group, outside of federations and footwear companies, to support events and change in our sport.
Runblogrun spoke with Jim Spier about his origins in the sport, the NSSF, their agenda
and his thoughts on the sport.
RBR 1. Tell us how you got involved in track and field?
JS I've always had a love of sport and statistics - and track and field fits that profile very well (I played baseball in high school but followed the track team very closely. Art Gulden of my high school [Plainedge, North Massapequa, NY] had just broken 50.0 for 440 yards in 1960, and I wondered how close it was to the National Record (Art eventually became the Bucknell coach). I snooped around and saw that the NR was held by Ulis Williams in something like 46.1. I was blown away! And the other national records were staggering as well. That's when I really got interested.
RBR 2. Tell us about the first Indoor champs you put on? What did you learn from this?
JS I actually put on the Record Assault Invitational (ROI) at Yale U in 1983, which led to the 1984 National Scholastic Indoor Champs in Princeton with Mike Byrnes and Tracy Sundlun. I learned 1) do not be intimidated by high school associations, but try to work with them - there is always a solution; 2) that anything is possible - it's often a matter of dedication and sticktoitiveness - and, occasionally, money.
RBR 3. Tell us abut the NSSF? Can people still join? What were your goals, what are they now?
JS We started in 1990 (Mike Byrnes and me) in order to help those who could not afford to get to the USATF Junior Champs. (The only way to make the US Junior team is to get to the USATF Junior Champs. Many could not afford to do so. As such, the U.S. was not always sending the best kids). We thought that we would be flooded with money as soon as we announced the concept. We were sorely mistaken. Ultimately, the way we did raise money was to put on events such as what are now called the Nike Indoor Nationals and Nike Outdoor Nationals. Along the way, we have gotten significant help from, among others, Bob Baxter of the USATF Junior Olympics when they were held in Chapel Hill in 1991, George Steinbrenner, OJ Simpson and Marion Jones! People, of course, can still make donations. We are a tax-exempt non-profit (501.c.3.) corporation. We have spent over $1.1 million dollars helping athletes over the years, and now average $100,000 plus per year.
RBR 4. For those who do not know, give us the overall view of your events during the season?
JS We own and operate the following:
March Nike Indoor Nationals - since 1999 (was the Nationals Scholastic Indoor Track and Field Championships from 1984-1997, at which time we split with the Metropolitan Athletics Congress and formed our own - NIN - event.)
June Nike Outdoor Nationals - since 1991 with various names. Nike has been our sponsor for the last
June Caribbean Scholastic Invitational - this will be the third year of sending a team of 28 athletes to
compete against Caribbean nations.
October Great American Cross Country Festival.
We operate, on behalf of Nike:
November Seven Nike Team Nationals Regional Championships
December Nike Team Nationals Finals
We also have a Select Meet Program, where we sponsor athletes to a dozen or so high end track meets (Arcadia, Taco Bell, Mobile Meet of Champions) yearly.
Finally, we support 40 athletes to the USATF Junior Champs. (Nike has provided gear for these athletes).
RBR 5. If a young athlete or school can not afford to come to an event, can you help them? ( If this question gets you in trouble, delete, it, I just do not know all of those rules).
JS We try to help financially challenged athletes whom we deem worthy of support
RBR 6. If you were speaking to high school coaches, why should they try and get their kids to Nike Indoor, Outdoor?
JS Because they will get a great experience where THEY come first. Historically the best races of the respective season have been contested at both of those meets.
RBR 7. Nike Team Nationals is the cross country series, where can it go from here?
JS Ultimately, the desire is to have it like the NCAA XC meet. That is, the inclusion of individuals. There is also some thought to expand the international portion (adding other countries besides Kenya).
RBR 8. Tell us about your team at NSSF?
JS We now have 3 full time employees - AJ Holzherr (Director of Business Development), Joy Kamani (our attorney and COO) and me (Executive Director). We bring in a dedicated and talented crew of 20-30 for each of our meets - sort of like a "swat" team that comes in and runs the meet. Mike Byrnes is Meet Director Emeritus for all of our meets.
RBR 9. If someone wanted to help, how could they work with you?
JS We can always use volunteers at any of our events. All they have to do is ask.
RBR 10. What was your favorite moment in cross, indoor and outdoor in 2007?
JS XC - the experience the kids have at the NTN finals - from the fun on the Nike campus to the competition on the course to the interaction between the US kids and the Kenyan athletes.
Indoor - Sean Holston running 21.53 and 47.12 - back to back (only 10 minutes between races) - a better double (believe it or not) than Lashawn Merritt's several years before (which I thought would never be topped).
Outdoor - the unbelievable boys' 2 mile won by Matt Centrowitz, Jr. in the low 8:40s (Where the C heat was won in 9:05 and the B heat in 8:55!)
For more information on NSSF, click: http://www.nationalscholastic.org