PIAA Silences Starter's Gun

Photo by Mike Williams

The sights, sounds and smells of the state track and field meet changed forever Friday.

No, the legendary fries are still available at Shippensburg, and if the wind is right, you know that working farms are nearby.

PIAA officials, however, decided this year to put the traditional starter's pistol and its smoke-generating blanks on the shelf, moving to a high-tech electronic start system for the 2016 state meet and future championships.

"I think it's a natural progression for us to move toward what higher levels are utilizing," Mark Byers, PIAA's chief operating officer, said of the break from starter's pistols and blanks that have been in short supply nationally this year.

Byers alluded to the successful use of electronic start systems during high-profile indoor meets in eastern Pennsylvania in 2016 as the launching point for a gunsmoke-free event at Shippensburg. The electronic simulated gun "creates no noxious fumes, requires no expensive blank cartridges" and connects director to a speaker or PA system to emit the start command, according to one company's Web site.

"I spoke with (PTFCA's) Ron Lopresti about the success of it, and that started the conversation with our statewide rules interpreter about incorporating it with this event," Byers said. "Right now, it's legal by rule so you can use it. I think for many schools it's gonna be cost prohibitive, but at the same time, if venues want to utilize it, they can use it now."

During the recent district meets across the state, districts 1 and 3 used electronic start systems, with District 1 opting for an electronic gun sound rather than the tone that the PIAA elected to use for this year's season finale.

"We did send information out to our different tournament directors about the use of it because there were some questions," Byers said of communication from the PIAA prior to the annual championships. "The big conversation that we had had more to do with using the tone versus what's supposed to be the equivalent of the gun.

"I'm not in favor of what the equivalent of the gun sounds like. To me it sounds more like a cough, where this is a clear sound."

Although most state qualifiers were not familiar with the high-tech "Go" command, Byers believes the system was having a positive effect on the meet.

"I think the kids are reacting to it," he said. "It's something that's new so I think our starts have been cleaner because they are listening for that tone, something's that different."