by Jim Gilmer and Josh Merlis
From left: Josh Merlis, Kyle Framer, Larry Galluzzo, Kevin Becker, and Jim Gilmer
At the 2019 USATF Annual Meeting in Reno, the Road Running Technical Council (RRTC) presented the Special Service Award to Josh Merlis, Kevin Becker, Kyle Farmer, Larry Galluzzo and Jim Gilmer for the development and launch of CertifiedRoadRaces.com, USATF’s new “end-to-end” online course certification system.
The quest to streamline USATF’s course certification application process began three years ago as a capstone project in the Advanced Computer Science class at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School. Taught by Josh and assisted by Jim, then the USATF Regional Certifier for New York, BH-BL graduating seniors Kevin, Kyle and Larry designed, built, and field tested a prototype system during the spring semester of 2017 and into summer. Upon demonstrating the system’s capabilities to RRTC officers, the project was subsequently approved and funded by the USATF National Office in 2018.
The final system development and fine-tuning was completed during 2019 by Kevin, a Computer Science major at RIT who serves as the project’s lead developer, and is interning at ARE Event Productions (AREEP). Kyle, majoring in Film Direction at Chapman University (Orange, CA), edited the project’s YouTube channel of training films at RRTC Online Course Certification. Larry, a junior in Computer Science at SUNY Polytechnic Institute who also helps time races for AREEP, provided valuable field testing of the early development phase of the system. He plans to rejoin the project this summer to help with alpha testing and user support.
The new automated system launched in mid-September and work on version 2.0 will be continuing in 2020. This system replaces a cumbersome email-based application process that was prone to errors in calculation and typos from redundant data-entry. Approved course certifications were stored in a database that was maintained manually on software that was no longer supported. As a result of the project team’s sustained efforts, measurers from across the country are now using the portal to submit their applications, have the certification submissions reviewed by RRTC officials, and obtain USATF Measurement Certificates and course maps entirely online.
Course certification is a critical, if not well understood, component of long distance road running. Although not required to hold or sanction on a race, for an athlete’s performance to even be considered for record purposes, USATF requires the race be competed on a certified course that has been measured, mapped and documented in adherence to an exacting protocol. USATF requires all Open and Masters Championship races to be certified. Finally, many events (and virtually all major ones) have their courses certified, if only to assure runners that the length of the course is not short.
Currently, there are roughly 25,000 active USATF certified road running courses in the U.S., with about 2,000 new courses being added each year. Course certification is valid for up to ten years from the year of measurement, provided there are no physical changes to the course.
Here is Josh’s view of the project from his unique perspective as a teacher and mentor.
In 2016, I returned to my former computer science teaching position at BH-BL after a 7 year hiatus to build AREEP. Throughout my time away, I missed the opportunity of working with bright young minds with a thirst to learn how to code, and more excitingly, to engage in creative ways for applying these new skills. I had a unique directive from the school administration to provide the students with a 'real-life' application as a platform to guide their capstone project and found myself uncertain of which direction to go. Shortly into that school year, I mentioned to Jim that I had this group of three students in a post-AP course that needed something "really challenging" and he said he had a concept involving certifying road race courses that might be interesting. I invited Jim into my classroom, and he became the de facto project manager/"client rep" of a project that turned into something far more real than either of us could have imagined at the outset.
In short, I can say without a doubt that this was the most rewarding and exciting months I ever spent teaching, perhaps most notably because what we were doing in the classroom was being built for the world outside of it. Kevin, Kyle, and Larry's level of dedication and teamwork epitomized what every company desires for a workplace culture and ethic. I am proud to say that these teenagers operated as consummate professionals throughout the whole process. Beyond the time put in at school and at home on this project, they even made trips to AREEP to work on it, including during school vacations in the spring semester of their senior year. While most 17 year-olds were joyful to be out of school and not working, these students looked forward to days without classes, because it meant more time to work on the project!
Seeing them finally pitch their project in July of 2017 to the RRTC Officers -- including Chairperson David Katz, who measures and manages races at the Olympics and other prestigious world championship events -- was an overwhelmingly joyous feeling of satisfaction and pride in these young men and how hard they worked. With countless other academic demands weighing heavily on their shoulders, they rose to the challenge, and exemplified what the mission of “education meeting real-world applications” is all about.
We became a kind of “work family” that second semester -- the three students, Jim, and myself -- bound together by what seemed like an impossible project, but also infused with a shared commitment of belief in ourselves and our abilities as a team to rise to the occasion. I am forever grateful to BH-BL for opening the doors to this unique learning opportunity, and to Jim for being the “captain” of our ship, as well as to Kevin, Kyle, and Larry for never backing down from the challenge of what surely exceeded a college -- let alone, high school -- curriculum. And most notably I am grateful to their extraordinary parents for being the backbone of nurturance and support, paving the way for their sons’ success not only in this project but also for the future triumphs that are surely destined to come their way.
If you are interested in learning more about course certification or learning how to measure a course, feel free to contact Jim Gilmer at email@example.com.
Jim Gilmer is Project Manager for USATF Online Certification Project and former USATF Regional Certifier for New York. Josh Merlis is the founder and president of ARE Event Productions.