Posted on 24 August 2014.
Tomorrow evening, August 25, Jim Whiting is ending his 20-year run as the coach/manager of the popular summer All-Comers track meet series.
Whiting started the free weekly meets in 1995 shortly after moving to Bainbridge Island as a way to give back to the community and connect with other runners. But with the first meet, which attracted about 25 runners, the series took off in a direction that surprised its founder.
“I thought it would appeal to adults, but from the get go it was obvious the main constituency was kids,” said Whiting. “I instituted age divisions starting with 5 and under, but once again I was wrong.” Before long, 3 and under was the youngest age category. “There were times I was looking at 36 little girls 3 and under taking off down the track,” said Whiting. “It turned out to be very positive that it became a kid-oriented event.” The average age of participants is 6.
Another early adjustment Whiting made was to retire the starter pistol because it made some kids cry. “After the second or third meet it was, ‘On your marks, get set, go!’” Whiting conceded that with about 70 races per meet and 8 or 9 meets each summer his voice is pretty hoarse by late August, in evidence in our conversation.
Whiting Coaching All Comers. Photo by Marilynn Gottlieb.
He estimates he started about 10,000 individual races through his tenure running All-Comers. As the meets became more popular, attracting some 150-160 kids each week, an efficient finish-line system of clocking and recording times became essential. Whiting explained that he had help from volunteers, including from Paul Benton, an accomplished runner in his own right and an assistant coach for the Bainbridge High School Cross Country team. Benton will take over running the All-Comers meets next season, with sponsorship from the Bainbridge Island Kiwanis.
Previous sponsors include the Bainbridge Park District and local business Bainbridge Self-Storage. Whiting expressed gratitude to all three organizations for their vital assistance in making All-Comers possible over the years.
Although he’ll be resting his voice and visiting his three grandchildren more often after stepping away from All-Comers, Whiting is not hanging up his coach’s whistle. He still coaches the Blazers, the Park District’s running program for middle schoolers. Whiting started coaching the Blazers in 2008 with about 30 kids. Last season the program had 80 participants, and more are expected this fall.
The Blazers are close to home for Whiting, who describes himself as the kid always picked last for sports until he discovered running in junior high. He is thrilled that this fall three kids from the Blazers will be runners at Whitman College (his alma mater): “It blows my mind that kids who were in Blazers are now in college.”
As for his All-Comers kids, Whiting told me he doesn’t have records from the early years but it’s possible that second-generation kids have participated in the meets.
Author of some 170 children’s nonfiction books and editor of 300 more, Whitman said, “I look back on my life, and All-Comers and Blazers have been some of the most satisfying things I’ve done.”
Lead photo courtesy of Jim Whiting. Other photo courtesy of Marilynn Gottlieb.