In what is sure to be a hotly debated move, the Western Mass Distance Project men have chosen to not renew their USATF membership both as a team and as individuals. There will be some thoughts on this move following their open letter to the USATF-NE board. You can read the release in it’s entirety here:
The WMDP Men have decided to not re-register as individual members for the USATF New England and will not be competing as a team in any USATF-NE Championship events for the indefinite future. As to not part ways without explanation, we would like to shed light on the reasons behind our choice to not participate in USATF-NE in the message below, for what it’s worth…
It is important we first acknowledge the positive of the USATF-NE. The association offers one umbrella for us all to compete under. Clubs are formed and rivalries are developed. This is, in our opinion, the draw of the USATF-NE. Having close competitions help to unite the teammates within the clubs, which, in turn, provides that extra shove of motivation to get post-collegiate athletes (now working professionals) out the door to keep this crazy dream that is track & field and running alive.
In the past the USATF-NE has stepped up to the plate and shown its potential. WMDP would like to acknowledge a USATF grant that was given to the club in 2012 for travel to Club XC Nationals in Lexington, KY for $1,200, which we are still very grateful for. WMDP sent 8 men and placed 9th in the open male division at that event. However, the process of applying and obtaining the grant was very difficult and the program is hardly advertised. Initiatives like this – ones that help grow the organization and promote clubs and individuals breaking through to the next level, should be promoted by the organization and the process should be welcoming to new clubs and qualifying individuals. We fear, had it not been for a team member on the board, this grant would have not been discovered and proposal for it would not have made its way through the board.
Based upon our experience as registered members and as a team, we strongly believe that USATF-NE association has provided an inadequate level of service to its members. The entire burden of hosting events with the USATF-NE label is placed on the race directors. No organizational help in setting up a championship caliber event is offered to the race directors by the association. No prize money assistance or matching is provided by the USATF-NE. Further, the races are charged (at least on the Road Grand Prix) to be a part of the series.
In regards to promoting and publicizing their product – the competition – the USATF-NE does little beyond their very outdated website. Results are often not announced in a timely manner (implying there is miscommunication between the timing companies and the organization) and news is only relevant for so long.
We will not ignore the fact that the Manchester Marathon issue most definitely influenced our decision not to renew our membership. Manchester is ONE example of the USATF slapping their label on a race and expecting it to go off without a hitch – not having adequate oversight of this “New England Championship Event”. Call this the proverbial straw that broke the Wolf’s back.
Speaking for the WMDP men’s team, we have had our most memorable and media-worthy performances at non-USATF races (Boston ’14, Chicago ’12). We see that the competition and the races will be there, with or without the USATF-NE, as the USATF-NE seems to only offer a label. Given the consideration of how we wish to grow and how short the USATF-NE continues to fall we have decided to no longer participate as we pursue our original goal of organizing this team – to pursue competitive running at both the regional and national level while keeping each other accountable.
It is understandable why the organization continues to fall short and not appropriately manage this ‘golden egg’ that is New England distance running – it is because a board comprised of only volunteers is not adequate for the job. Despite great intentions and efforts of the volunteers, the monthly meetings do not result in the implementing of highly competitive championships and events the membership pays for and deserves.
While on the board, one member of our team reported hearing about the idea of hired help being tossed around quite a bit. Hired help would offer races liaisons to be in the field and getting races championship ready. It is a minimal investment, but would result in better managed events. To the best of our knowledge, nothing has been done about it.
We would like to see USATF-NE make an effort to ensure that the championship events are THE BEST events possible, from an organizational, prize purse, and media frenzied perspective. If implemented, the competition will be sure to show up. The USATF has the resources. This is the USATF-NE’s business investment to growing the organization and providing its membership with something of value. Otherwise, what is your USATF-NE membership worth?
It’s probably safe to say that those who support the move think that hitting the organization where it hurts (in the budget) is the smart and necessary move. Of course the lost revenue here is immaterial, but if enough people start doing this then the thinking is that the USATF will have to start paying attention to what their dues paying members are saying.
Those who oppose most likely think that the WMDP men are taking the easy way out or ‘quitting never solved anything’. Basically, if you’re not a part of it then you can’t fight the good fight and help change things for the better. In that regard, walking away is kind of a nuclear option; the last resort for those too fed up to deal with the bullshit any longer (and actually pay membership dues to do so).
Both sides make total sense, it all comes down to how much you want to tolerate a situation you don’t like and how much you think you can still make a difference.
Obvioulsy the people running the various associations have nothing to do with the awful decisions made by the national office over the last year or so, but membership dues are still going to the national office. So if you’re not happy with some aspects of your local association and then you see how the national office is seemingly trying to piss everyone off, well everyone has their breaking point.
But in this case it’s not the national shenanigans that are driving the team away. It’s because of more locally-based problems. One of their members served on the board and tried to make a difference. That’s going above and beyond just buying a membership card each year. It seems that he, like quite a few others who have tried recently, walked away from the experience more frustrated than when he started. That says a lot.
Whether or not you agree with the move, we can probably agree on one thing: it’s opening the discussion up on a bigger stage and that could help get things done. We need more people getting involved and being vocal to see any progress.