Beecroft: Timing is everything
At last week's Section 2AAA True Team track meet, 15 boys and girls teams sprinted down the track, handed off batons, vaulted over bars and jumped as far as they could into pits of sand.
Each athlete's finish was tracked, recorded, announced and posted on a wall for viewing as the events were taking place, creating a great overall experience for fans, coaches, media and competitors.
However, there was someone behind it all.
He was in a 15-by-five-foot concession-stand style trailer parked aside the Park High track. surrounded by cords, cameras, monitors and computers
You could call him Park's Wizard of Oz, but his real name is Jim Beecroft.
Beecroft, a man who is known for being heard before he's seen despite his slender Lou Holtz-type frame, began timing track meets at Park High School 10 years ago.
"I did it because nobody else was wiling to do it," said Beecroft, who has taught math at Park High School since 1985. "I don't do it because this is my joy in life. I'm hoping to find a young teacher when I retire that is willing to do it, so I can pass it on."
In the beginning, Dean Houdek was the Park head track coach, Larry Costigan was the meet manager, and Beecroft was an assistant coach.
Before Beecroft, Park was hiring a company to do timing at the meets using Polaroid film called Accutrack, which would cost upwards of $500 per meet just to time it.
"Every meet we're paying for all this film and somebody's bringing cameras in and it was really, seriously expensive," Beecroft said.
Beecroft began researching other options and ran across a man from Wadena, Minn. whose uncle, a man named Gene Hillesland, developed a timing system at Florida State University.
"I didn't develop it at all, we simply bought the pieces," Beecroft said. "I saw it, talked to those guys and we bought one. We liked it. Now we have four."
Ever since, Beecroft and his team of helpers has been doing the timing at the Park home meets as well as at other meets, including the True Team state meet at Blaine and Stillwater, the section true team meets at Eagan and a number of conference championship meets.
"I try to only do Park," he said. "We do get asked to go to other places. We have traveled, but I don't like to. Can you imagine hauling all this stuff someplace else and setting all this up? It basically takes me a day to set up and a day to get it down and I teach math. I don't have time to run all over the state."
Beecroft's system basically includes two cameras on each side of the track that feed images, through cables, into his trailer and a laptop computer. The cameras have sensors that sense when a person crosses the finish line using time code. He uses cameras that capture images at 60 per second. Beecroft said there are other timing system cameras capturing images at 1000 per second currently, but that are very expensive.
The image of the athletes crossing the finish line is then recorded by a video cassette and is also run into the lap-top. Beecroft then uses a software program called Eagle Eye, developed by an individual at the University of St. Thomas, to figure out when the athletes cross the finish line and the time it took to do so.
That information is then instantly entered into a database that compiles and stores the results. Results of races can then almost immediately be printed or announced at the event.
Any new equipment and staffing needed for timing the meets is paid for by a combination of Park and gate receipts. A lot of the original equipment was purchased though fundraising like candy sales outside Beecroft's classroom and concession-stand profits. As soon as Beecroft began to time meets, he used his fees to buy other equipment.
Park junior Lauren Kimball is one of over 10 volunteers that helps Beecroft time meets.
"I like computer-type stuff and thought it would be interesting." said Kimball, whose favorite courses are math and science. "Plus, I didn't have a lot to do besides Bible studies and homework."
Park High School English and journalism teacher Tom McCarthy has worked with Beecroft in varying capacities at meets for eight years.
He said Beecroft has been and is critical to Park and the district's athletics.
"He improves programming, he develops better systems of doing things and is respected throughout the athletic community for his ability to maintain a professional, exceedingly high-quality high school track and field and cross country experience," McCarthy said. "It's not like this at a lot of other meets. Jim is by the book. He creates systems upon systems to make sure nothing goes wrong. I know he has to turn meets down."
McCarthy said Beecroft works tirelessly to make certain the meets go accordingly.
"He works at a level beyond anyone I've ever seen," McCarthy said. "His devotion to the sport and athletics in general is incredible and his commitment to the success of student athletes is commendable."
Patrick Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.