Will There Be a Season? A Talk with Clif McKenzie

Clif McKenzie has been involved in Arizona track and field for over 30 years. Most of you may know him as the lean and fit sunglassed-faced starter of many of our track and field/cross country championship and invitational meets in our state. But, Mr. McKenzie has his fingers in a lot of track and field filled pies beyond being a head official. He's an Arizona State University Hall of Fame track and field athlete and was an elite runner (sprinter) until 1983. He's been the USA team manager at World Junior and World Indoor Championship meets. McKenzie has been in a variety of educational administrative roles in Arizona, one of which was the Athletic Director for the entire Scottsdale Unified School District for a number of years. Moreover, he is currently the USATF Arizona Association President, the new head track and field coach for Perry High School this season, and current Vice-Chair for Men's Development of USA Track and Field. His unique perspective on nearly all aspects of track and field in our country makes him the ideal person to talk to about what is going on with our sport during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Q: How has COVID-19 effected you in regard to track and field and coaching?

That is a "loaded question" was McKenzie's initial response. He spoke about how the virus has "dampened the high school season, collegiate season, and elites." We now know, of course, that the Olympics have been postponed and that collegiate athletes never even had a chance at a season this spring. 

When speaking about his new role as head track and field coach at Perry High School, McKenzie noted that when you take these jobs you do them to "help young people with their goals and aspirations" and that it is difficult now due to COVID-19 to "not be able to see athletes blossom like you know they could become."

Q: Do you feel if high school track started back up in Arizona by late April or early May that more kids may use the club season to extend their year?

McKenzie's initial response was he didn't believe there would be an influx of new high school athletes in USATF AZ club teams because some of these athletes do other sports and if spring sports were canceled by the AIA that "the season will now have left them" and they would "startup with football, soccer, basketball, or whatever sport they would be doing next." If there were able to be at least a club season (which normally goes to the end of July) then those track athletes would most definitely do what they always do and continue their season with their club teams, in McKenzie's opinion.

McKenzie continued to say if the high school season is canceled then club teams would still not be able to use these facilities, which they need in order to train and compete as well; hence, the club season would most likely be finished for the year, too.

Q: Do you think there will be a season this spring?

McKenzie was uncertain about the future of AIA spring sports. He had contact with David Hines, the Executive Director of the AIA, and he said Mr. Hines was doing a great job and "listening to all constituents on this matter...Yes, they [AIA] would love the season to go on, but a week ago we were looking only at March 27 and then Governor Ducey made the decision to push it to April 10. Hard to even second guess right now."

McKenzie would go on to say, "I would like to see it [a track season] but we've already missed two major meets - the Chandler Rotary and Sun Angel (which was scheduled for next weekend)."  McKenzie seemed to want the safety of everyone first and that the track season is still a big question mark.

Mr. McKenzie was generally heartbroken for all types of athletes: Elites who have recently had their Olympics postponed; Collegiate athletes who never even had a whiff of a season; High school athletes, who, for now, he is more worried about their safety and hoping if and when they train are doing proper social distancing. 

"As coaches," McKenzie continued when speaking about when school closures occurred, "we were first trying to hold on tight and hoping for a season, but now the first priority is our athletes' safety."

We ended our conversation with McKenzie recognizing that we all have to wait and see what the state and local officials want to do and simply take it from there.