Less than 4 per cent of the 1,328 registered entrants in last weekend's East Coast Invitational (ECI) age-group track meet resided in the District of Columbia.
Despite the District's close proximity to the meet's Ft. Meade, Md., location and the nominal $1 per event entrance fee, the D.C. contingent was dwarfed by delegations from Pennsylvania -- with more than four times as manu entrants as the District - and large contingents from New York, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia.
Two-thirds of D.C.'s 51 entrants were concentrated in the older age brackets. Twenty-five were found in the 14-15 age bracket and nine more in the 16-17 group. There were nine aged 12-13, while only three youths aged 10-11 and five 8-9 competed. There were no 7-under contestants from D.C.
"I tried to get the D.C. recreation department involved," said Charles (Buzz) Ryan, who founded the meet in 1975. "I don't know why they're not here. It's an easy sport. It's cheap. You get the kid a pair of shorts and a pair of sneakers, and he can compete."
"That's not unusual at all for these meets. It's a phenomenom I can't explain," said Skip Grant, coach of the D.C. Catholic Youth Organization squad (CYO), of the demographic breakdown. "Organized and structured programs are necessary. In the District, there just isn't that much age-group participation. There just aren't that many clubs (involved in it)."
Though the CYO team operates from St. Albans School at Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues NW, only one-third of its approximately 50 members lives in D.C., Grant said. Of 11 CYO members at the ECI, only one resided in the District.
"Over the years, a lot of clubs have grown older," said meet director Bob Rothenberg. "It seems the D.C. Department of Recreation isn't filling the void in D.C. The void is created by the clubs who once developed age-group track, but don't any longer."
Rothenberg said more volunteers were needed to start programs in D.C. "This sport has a volunteer ethic built into it," he said.
The ECI was organized to reach children, such as in D.C., who can't afford to travel to the national age-group competitions which are usually held on the West Coast. This year's nationals were held in Albuquerque, N.M., for the boys and Xenia, Ohio, for the girls.
While the turnout from D.C. has been light, Grant said the establishment of the meet has been a major step forward for area youths. "I think it's very important forkids who can't make it to the nationals - for financial or other reasons," Grant said. "It gives them exposure and it gives them incentive . . . for kids who can't make the nationals, it's a good substitute."
For David Saunders of the CYO, the ECI made his decision easier to skip nationals to devote himself to a French course he was taking. "This is pretty much the same as the nationals. A lot of the athletes are from out of town, so the competition is tough," said Saunders, who lives at 5307 4th St. NW. "For a lot of kids, it gives them a lot of experience. This is a top-notch meet in the East Coast. For a lot of teams, this is a top meet. When I was young (he is now 16), we didn't have any meets like this."
Anthony Robertson, 15, of 1110 Aspen St. NW, thought the quality of the meet was fine, possibly too stiff at times. "For people who didn't make it (to nationals), this is still a good caliber meet," he said. "You have to run just as much . . . three times in each event is like getting ready for the electric chair. I'm tight."
D.C. residents could only manage three gold medals in the 330 different races and numerous field event sections, but those were earned in style. Saunders set a national 14-15 age group record with 1:49.2 in the 880 and a meet standard with 49.3 in the 440.
Jeanette Kelly of Northwest Washington won the 12-13 mile with a meet record 5:12.2.