As many as a dozen athletes may have been improperly prevented from qualifying for this Saturday's Southern Section Division I track and field finals, and a top national mark is also in jeopardy, after The Times Orange County learned that the Accutrack automatic timing system at Saturday's preliminaries malfunctioned.
The timing system's percussion device failed before the start of the girls' 100-meter low hurdles race--the fifth event--and remained inoperable for the rest of the meet.
"I learned that they didn't fix it," said Bob McGuire, the Division I meet manager. "They had a glitch and nobody made me aware of it. It was being started manually.
"Obviously, we have a problem."
The timing device attaches to the starter's gun and "hears" its firing, which starts the clock. The clock is stopped at the finish line by a photo-finish camera.
After discovering the percussion device was not working properly, Joe Raya, the Accutrack operator Saturday at Long Beach Veterans Stadium, asked a track and field equipment supplier in attendance if he had a spare one. He didn't.
"The starter box wouldn't activate," Raya said Monday. "So what I did was start the races manually by hitting the button on the side of the machine."
Raya, at the finish line, started the Accutrack by hand at the sound of the gun, but allowed the machine to record automatic times.
National Federation of State High School Assn. rules stipulate that when an automatic timing system fails, races are to be hand timed. Officials say they did not know of the Accutrack's malfunctioning.
"That's news to me," said Dean Crowley, acting Southern Section commissioner, when questioned Monday night. "We had a meeting on Sunday and no one said diddly to me about it. We had no problems with the Division I meet. If there were problems, why didn't this come out? We ran this race Saturday and no one said anything to (Southern Section officials).
"This is a major deal in my opinion. If that happened, I don't understand why Raya is keeping this thing a big secret. This is incomprehensible. If (the Accutrack) malfunctioned and (Raya) operated that thing and didn't tell anybody, then I have a real problem with that."
Said Raya: "The starter knew, and I think everybody else around the finish line did, too."
McGuire, who teaches at La Mirada High and is a former track and field and cross-country coach, has been involved with coordinating meets for 14 years. He says he is dumbfounded by what has occurred.
"I can't explain this," McGuire said. "We work as a big group, but not everything comes through me. I'm not trying to duck the blame or pass it around, but I'm all over the place (during a meet).
"It sure would have been nice if whoever was aware of this Saturday would have let me know. They should have told me. For somebody at the site to sit on top of that information, it doesn't help us."
In hand-timed races, any time above a 10th of a second (10.11 or 10.19) is rounded up to its nearest 10th (10.2). Because races were being timed by the Accutrack, runners advanced to Saturday's finals or were eliminated based on times recorded to the 100th of a second. If hand times had been used, ties would have resulted and run-offs held, with the winners advancing.
For example, Capistrano Valley's Laurel Simpson posted a 15.31 time in Heat 3 of the girls' 100 low hurdles. In Heat 5, Roberta Burns of Dana Hills ran a 15.32. Under national federation rules, both times should have been rounded up to 15.4 and a run-off held.
However, because automatic timing was used at the race's finish, Simpson qualified for Saturday's section finals and Burns was eliminated--improperly. After reviewing Division I results, as many as a dozen other runners appear to have been improperly eliminated.
McGuire said section officials began reviewing times from the races in question late Monday, after talking with The Times. He spoke at length with Crowley and discussions will continue today among section officials to develop a course of action.
"The whole thing about high school championships is that this is for the kids," Crowley said. "If something did go wrong and kids were hurt, then we've got to go back and make it right."
Based on times recorded by the malfunctioning Accutrack, Redlands' Pat Johnson posted the nation's fastest wind-aided 100-meter clocking (10.19 seconds) of the year. Had his race been hand-timed, he would have finished in 10.2 seconds, which converts to 10.44 automatic. Johnson's personal best is 10.42.
"I hope everyone will be reasonable about it and understand. I guess it depends on the position you take," McGuire said.
"This is a problem, but it's by no means insurmountable."
Times staff writers Jason H. Reid and Bob Rohwer contributed to this story.