THE GAA SPRINT GALA
written by Josephine Moultrie (GAA Coordinator 2015-2018)
The GAA Sprint Gala started back in September 2015 when I had to create a new competition event as part of the interview for the GAA Coordinator position. Originally I was looking to create a street type athletics meet in George Square for a mixture of elite and Scottish athletes, but only just starting to look into organising it, costs were above £100,000 so I decided to change direction.
Looking at the athletics calendar, the GAA already organised the Miler Meet, a meeting focused on endurance only track races; Scottish Athletics held the Throws Grand Prix; and at the time there was a popular UK Jumps Fest competition, but nothing on offer for sprinters outside of championships and if lucky, UK leagues. The standard of sprinting in Scotland was struggling at the time. I looked at other athletes in my training group who had a 6/7 week gap in their season with no competition from the UK League at the start of July until the Scottish Championships at mid-end of August. It was from here I noticed there was a gap in the market and made it my aim to fill it with a high quality Sprint only competition. Following the process listed on the Scottish Athletics website on how to organise a meeting with things such as permits and first aid, using pricing lists from Scotstoun, finding online entry websites, I was able to list all the steps I felt necessary in putting on a meeting. I was successful in being hired for the position by the GAA and once we were into the Summer 2016 season I was asked to go ahead and host the first ever GAA Sprint Gala.
I had previously worked as a Marketing Assistant whilst still in the States at the University of New Mexico, experiencing NCAA Division I sports such as American Football, Men’s & Women’s Basketball, Baseball and I ran the Softball marketing programme. There was a big emphasis on the atmosphere and experience of competitions for both athletes and spectators, which was something I really wanted to bring into Athletics in Scotland. Attending many Athletics events in the previous few years such as league matches and Scottish Championship events, they were very long (8+ hour) days, long periods between events, meets running behind timetable, dead atmosphere and no audience interaction, spurred me on to create a new style of meet for Glasgow. My aim was to create short (2-3 hour), fast action meets, increased atmosphere for athletes and spectators, high energy music, providing a new competition experience not just another race, interaction with athletes and spectators, live streaming of races online, pre-event heat sheets and timetable to help keep events on time and prize money for athletes, in a way to help increase participation and improve sprinting standards. I sought out and spoke to people for advice such as other hosts of open graded meets (Kenny Morrison from Inverclyde AC, DunRen OG’s, in particular was very helpful) on how to launch the meets and implement some of my ideas.
All of the meets at the GAA operate with no budget; the meets are to fund themselves, having to balance stadium costs, number ordering, first aid etc with entry fees and spectator entry fees. I wanted to make sure spectators were able to get value for their entry money and I worked hard to give back with a high quality meet and our free tea/coffee and home baking stand, which was always a big hit! Finding enough people to help bring baking goods along was very difficult and keeping spending money costs down, for the first few meets I worked all week leading into the event baking all of the goods provided! I always tried to re-invest back into the meets, as we attracted more entries, income money increased, I would add more money to the prize pot, increase our catering, etc to help attract athletes to come and compete.
The first meet took place in August 2016 at Crownpoint Sports Complex, about 10 and 17 days before the Senior and age group Scottish Championships. It was difficult at first launching the competition as the season had already started and to encourage athletes to enter a brand new competition, but it was a success! We achieved good entry numbers, good quality athletes entered, prize money won and with a good personal best rate from the night. From organising the Miler Meets and them having taken place for a few years there was always a good volunteer base to help out; but launching the new sprint gala it was very difficult to find enough volunteers to help out with jobs and often I had to call upon my family to come to the first few meets to fill spaces.
After the success of the first event we looked to put on two meets in 2017; one in May between the District and Scottish Schools Championships and the second in August 10/17 days before the Scottish Championships. The first meet we ended up having to cancel due to lack of entries. It was a huge blow after a successful first meet and we looked at ways to improve this. We found it difficult to convince people to compete in Glasgow, many athletes were more interested travelling round Europe to compete in small meets at the time instead of at their home track, and we often found athletes didn’t want come to compete against each other so we had to work to come up with ways to make it attractive to compete at our meets. We looked at giving athletes two 100m race opportunities instead of just one, adding in field events, researching into possibly running with the wind on the backstraight for 100m races to take advantage of the Scottish weather, increase prize money, and adding new fun innovative events such as Hurdle’s Relay, Mixed Medley Relay (2 men, 2 women racing 200-100-100-400m) and Mixed 4x200m events. We also looked at our organisation, setting dates in the calendar earlier to allow more time to promote the event and creating our email list to inform athletes and coaches of our competitions.
The scheduled meet for August 2017 took place and was a big success! There was a huge increase in entry numbers and number of races, with a big draw of quality senior athletes right down to many competing in their first ever athletics competition. Great weather helped and we were treated to high quality races, with legal winning times in the 100m of 10.45 and 11.94 finishing with an exciting Mixed Medley Relay!
For 2018, we aimed to provide 3 competitions, our same scheduled dates in May and August with an additional mid July date. The first two meets were successful again, entries continued to increase and a wide spread of senior athletes right through to U11’s, with our exciting Hurdles Relay and very tight Mixed 4 x 200m closing out the programmes. Unfortunately, our final meet was cancelled late due to a change in the originally advertised Scottish National Championships date; we couldn’t ask athletes to compete 3 days before their championships.
I think it has helped change sprinting competition in Scotland. I was always thankful when athletes and parents would take time out of their days to contact me through emails/phone calls/social media to say how much they enjoy the Sprint Gala competitions, and was their favourite competitions to take part in! It is a really enjoyable experience to organise a new meet but takes a lot of hard work. The GAA is a small organisation and I was organising the whole competitions on my own, as well as balancing 5-6 jobs on the night to keep it running, whilst trying to promote the meet with live results, videos and social media work. With a successful year passing the baton over for the 2019 season to Nikki Manson, I’m looking forward to following the progress for an even better 2020!