SLII itself was little more than a high school then, but it had several advantages over them. One was that SLII students were generally older than the high schoolers. Another was that SLII had more students than most high schools and so had more potential athletes.
That worried SLII President Edwin L. Stephens. He wanted his Field Day competition to be fair, and also wanted the high schools to keep coming to them. He regarded the Field Days as opportunities to show off the Institute to potential students. If the high schools never won, they'd stay away, he figured, so he tried to come up with a system of handicaps that would equalize things.
In February 1908, he asked the opinions of coaches at other colleges.A copy of his letter to the coach at the U.S. Naval Academy is in the UL Archives. 'I write to request your judgment as to what is the best method of adjusting handicaps for track athletics," Stephens said. "The case ... arises [because Field Days included] ... High Schools, some having no more than twenty boys over the age of fourteen years, while others have as many as one hundred and twenty, and the Industrial Institute is also included, having more than one hundred and fifty boys over fourteen years of age."
Field Days officials had been giving extra points to smaller schools, using a formula based upon the size of the student body.
"This plan has proved unsatisfactory to the smaller schools," Stephens said, "and they desire to have whatever handicap is allowed them expressed in distance ahead at the start in running events and distance subtracted in the jumping and weight contests. "
James Lathrop, track coach at Harvard, responded, "It is a large proposition to try to equalize athletic ability in schools of varying sizes. ... Sometimes a small school will ... have three or four extra good athletes who win more points than a larger school. ... The only fair way is to have all competitors start at scratch in all events and let the prizes go according to ability."
F. W. Stone of the Chicago Athletic Association wrote "In my opinion, there is only one proper way to handicap in athletics, and that is the individual. ... Appoint some level headed man who has the love of fair sport at heart 'Handicapper' and after a few races he will be able to do the right work. Until such time I would handicap according to age. ... If you know a man is much superior to anyone put him as many yards behind scratch as you think fair. It won't be long before your Handicapper will know all about the business."
Stephens made his recommendations to the executive board of the athletic association in a letter dated March 25.
He suggested allowing smaller schools a head start of one-half yard in the 100-yard dash; one yard in the 220; two yards in the 440; three yards in the 880; four yards in the mile; and spotting them one inch each in the high jump, broad jump, and pole vault; and three inches in the shot put.
The plan apparently worked. The Field Days evolved into the Southwestern Relays that attracted high school athletes from across the state, as well as super stars such as Jim Ryun, the last American to hold the world record in the mile run, and Parry O'Brien, who won two gold medals in the Olympics in the shot put.
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