FALSE START #11 by David E. Ortman

[April 2001 National Masters News Reprinted by Permission]

A Jock Strap By Any Other Name Would Smell. . .

In the February 2001 NMN our Masters T&F Chair asked about changing the name of our sport from Masters to Seniors. Here is why I think it would be a bad marketing decision.

For God knows what reason, WAVA has a split threshold, 35 for women and 40 for men. If they were a U.S. organization, I believe they could be sued in court for gender discrimination. Since most of the top world athletes peter out at about the age of 30, WAVA is deliberately turning its back on women 30-35 and men 30-40. This means these folks have no opportunity to participate in a world T&F championship or to have an incentive to keep with the program.

In addition, USATF also has established "Masters" as a category for those 40 and over. At least USATF allows "sub-masters" to enter the US National Championships, but I believe that one reason the M/W 30 and M/W 35 age groups have so few competitors is that no one knows they exist.

I myself missed out on nine years of "masters" track and field because I had always been told that Masters start at 40. I didn't learn that the age group between 30-39 could compete in the USATF National "Masters" until I was 39 and boy was I hopping mad. Unfortunately, hopping mad, was not an event.

In order to capture a market, you have to capture people early and keep them involved. Even AARP has lowered the age of membership to 50. (In fact, I understand AARP is scheming to enroll kids right out of high school.)

A change from masters to "seniors" does just the opposite, despite the fact that there already is a "Senior Olympics". Ask anyone how old they think someone would have to be to participate in the Senior Olympics. I bet few would guess below 60. In fact, the National Senior Games/ Senior Olympics start at age 50.

In the past the word "senior" and "65" has been virtually interchangeable, even though nowadays, people who are 65 no longer tend to think of themselves as seniors. The term "seniors" has now shifted upward and tends to refer to those 70 and above. This is NOT the way to market t&f.

Maybe it's true that nobody outside the running community has a clue as to what masters means. Maybe it's a golf tournament. Unfortunately, people do know what "seniors" mean, at least in golf, and the image of foursomes of gray oldies in their dotage, who can't carry their own clubs, is hardly a stirring one.

As Jerry Wojcik has pointed out, USATF already designates its "open" or "elite" championships as a "senior" championships, even though few open athletes are over 30. I suppose they do this because they have Junior Championships for high school age kids.

I've attempted, with no luck, to come up with a better name than Masters. How does "CEOs", "Ubermenschen", "Pioneers", or the currently trendy "Survivors" sound? "Honey, I'm off to a Survivors meet" has a ring of truth to it, at least.

The thesaurus is little help. But of these three, which image do you want to market?

Veteran: old man, octogenarian, nonagenarian, centenarian, oldster, old-timer, codger.

Senior: elder, older.

Master: lord, commander, captain, chief, ruler.

I would strongly recommend staying with masters and decree that from hence-forward, masters be the designation for all those 30 years of age and above. Just as there is some overlap between College and Open meets, I don't see a big problem in a bit of overlap between Open and Masters meets for those 30-and-over. Those who can still compete in Open meets, bless them, but let's not lose the rest for 10 years or more.

As my favorite t&f tee-shirt says: "Master the moment!".

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