Stephanie Hightower is the Chair of the Women Track & Field Committee of the High Performance Division of USA Track & Field. A world class hurder, member of the 1980 Olympic team, Hightower has spent much of the last two decades in the area of public and private education. As President of the Columbus, Ohio public school district for five years and Vice President of Advancement for the Columbus College of Arts & Design, she comes to the sport with some varied experiences.
In our quest at ATF to help you, our readers, understand the players in our sport and how their decisions can affect you on both the national but a local level, we bring you this interview, done via email, after a discussion at the Womens’ Olympic Marathon
As our goal is to be even handed, we will be interviewing other candidates for President of USA Track & Field over this coming summer.
This interview was set up by Larry Eder, and will appear in an edited
version in American Track & Field Resource Guide, in late June 2008.
ATF: Stephanie, Thanks for your time and responses to this interview, please answer in any way you see fit, long or short. Thanks again for your time. Tell us about your first experience in the sport?
Hightower: My first experience in the sport occurred when I ran a race in Bamberg, Germany,
where my father was stationed in a field that consisted of older boys. I won!
ATF: How did the 1980 boycott affect you? What are your thoughts now, two decades later?
Hightower: The 1980 Boycott was a disappointing and sobering experience. Through that experience I gained a better understanding of the importance of keeping world politics out of the decisions related to the Olympic movement.
Two decades later, while I am no longer angry, I believe President Carter made a decision that wasn’t well thought out and had negative consequences for those of us who had trained to win spots on the 1980 Team.
ATF: Where is our sport in the US right now, just after the Masback era in USATF?
Hightower: Our sport is now in “Pause” mode. While Masback’ departure was untimely, we still have an Olympic Games, face complex issues and challenges around the USOC mandated restructuring and performance enhancing drugs, all of which could have both positive and negative effects on the survival of the sport in the US. However, I believe the board is committed to finding new leadership that is visionary and will get USATF back to “Play” mode so that we can continue to be considered the World’s Greatest Track and Field team.
ATF: How is the search for a new CEO for USATF going?
Hightower: The search for the new CEO is moving forward. A search firm has been hired, there is a search team comprised of Non-board members in place and they are executing a timeline with the intent of having the new CEO selected prior to the start of the Games in Beijing.
ATF: Why should someone bring their family to see an elite track meet? What is there about the sport of track and field that makes it a good sport to view, support and participate in?
Hightower: The expectations of spectators attending a track meet should be to experience an eclectic mix of events that showcases individual competivness. Our sport is unique because there is an array of events; vaulting, hurdling, walking, sprinting, throwing, distance running, jumpingâ€¦there is something for everyone to enjoy watching.
ATF: USATF is viewed as a disagreeable cousin in other parts of the world; Lots of potential, Lots that many seem to see as desirable, but the IAAF just does not seem to get how large our sport is over here and how hard it is to manage–any comments on that?
Hightower: Because Sports in this country is so comprehensive, I think we know that it is hard for the world to grasp.
But there is also envy from other parts of the world because USATF has a youth feeder program and collegiate feeder system that strengthens our elite programs on the track, in long distance running, on the field, etc. We also have a heck of a masters program. Our challenge in the future is to better manage, market globally and support all of our disciplines and once we do this then maybe we will no longer be the disagreeable cousin in the other parts of the world.
ATF:You have been going to alot of events, both Olympic Marathon Trials, UK events, Indoor Events, Global events, as a former hurdler, do you follow the hurdles today? Have you become fans of new events?
Hightower: Of course I continue to follow the hurdles closely! I am amazed by times being run by the Michelle Perry, Joanna Hayes, and Lo Lo Jones of the world. I am also impressed with the Swedish hurdler and the speed of the Jamaicans. This will be one of the events you won’t want to miss during the Games.
However, over the years, I have found other track and field events that excite me and that I have a better appreciation for watching. In particular, I have a new found respect for the strategic performances in middle distance running and the types of courses that are best suited for marathon runners.
ATF: You travel with the young teams, how have the athletes changed from your competitive era? What do you think of our top athletes today?
Hightower: Our young athletes today have more opportunities to become focused earlier in their careers due to our thriving youth program as well as more international competitions and better coaching. I am excited about the next generation of young runners that will be representing our country.
ATF: Should the Federation own track meets? What is the role of USATF in the modern era?
Hightower: Yes, USATF should own track meets, but only if we own the commercial rights. In the modern era, USATF must develop solid comprehensive revenue streams for the sport to thrive and to remain competitive with other major sports in this country.
ATF: For the sport to grow and prosper, we need to change. What changes are needed for USATF to be perceived by the IOC, IAAF, and global sports marketing giants as a great place to invest their dollars?
Hightower: Owning the commercial rights to our events, and more sophisticated marketing will help us to attract more sponsors which I believe will give us more credibility with the IOC, IAAF and the global sports marketing giants.
ATF: And last but not least, are you going to run for USATF president? What do you think that you bring to the table and why should people vote for you?
Hightower: Yes, I intend to announce my candidacy to run for President. It would be an honor and privilege to represent all the constituents within the USATF family. I bring over twenty-eight (28) years of leadership serving on non-profit boards, and working in the public and private sectors in executive roles. I have been involved with USATF since 1981 starting with the AAC, serving on the board of directors, and chairing Women’s Track and Field. I was elected to serve on the Columbus Board of Education, serving for five years as the President of a $1.3 billion dollar school district, and professionally serve as a Vice President of Columbus College of Art & Design responsible for the Advancement arm of the institution currently responsible for a $12M comprehensive campaign. I am confident that my experience with governing boards, leadership roles, managing large budgets and raising dollars makes me uniquely qualified to build on our sports current accomplishments and take USATF to the next level.