Trying to get on track: Vt. athletes may soon find themselves without  an indoor facility

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/15/2019 9:57:37 PM

A facility shortage for Vermont’s high school indoor track teams and the nearly 500 student-athletes who participate every winter is nothing new. The state has just three facilities within its borders, all part of universities and two — Middlebury College’s Virtue Field House and Norwich University’s Shapiro Field House — that are unavailable to the Vermont Indoor Track Association for varsity use.

The University of Vermont’s Gardner-Collins Indoor Track in Burlington is the only in-state facility currently in use by the Vermont Principals Association, the state’s governing body for varsity athletics. UVM will hold the state indoor track and field state meet on Saturday beginning at noon.

But its future use by high school athletes came into question earlier this winter. UVM is set to begin construction on a $95 million athletic facility, a project that will renovate both Gutterson Field House and Patrick Gymnasium, as well as update a fitness and wellness center. Gardner-Collins is connected to the school’s athletic complex.

Some indoor track coaches and high school athletic directors fear the renovation would mean one fewer facility for use next winter, forcing all meets — including the state championship — out of state.

“We’ve been told next season is still up in the air,” said Hartford head coach Mike Perry. “I just don’t know what else we can do. … If we had more facilites, things may not be as strenuous. We’re very lucky here, with Oxbow, Springfield and Thetford, we go to Dartmouth all December. We’re really lucky to have that in our backyard.”

Added Thetford head coach Charlie Buttrey: “We were (previously) told there would be no indoor track at UVM. We have a hard enough time (finding facilities for meets). We have a little bit more insight now.”

Bob Johnson, the VPA’s associate executive director, said this week that the UVM construction project will not affect varsity indoor track’s use of the facility for regular-season meets. A location for the state meet next season, however, is still up in the air.

“We still have a facility shortage,” Johnson said.

Middlebury Virtue Field House was built in 2015 and houses a 200-meter track with nine 60-meter sprint lanes and dedicated jumping and vaulting areas for field events. It also houses McCormick Field, a 21,000-square-foot turf surface inside the oval, making it an ideal host for varsity indoor track meets due to its size. Johnson said the facility is unavailable to outside groups.

Norwich’s Shapiro Fieldhouse was built in 1987 and is a 50,000-square-foot multipurpose facility with a 200-meter indoor track. The VPA last hosted the state meet there in 2016, an event that ended well after midnight. Johnson said Norwich has since priced itself out of consideration.

“The Norwich meets, they always ran over our time limit,” Perry said. “The cadets were waiting to get on the track.”

UVM’s Gardner-Collins Indoor Track was last renovated in 1998 and is a complementary facility to the Gucciardi Fitness Center. At 160 meters, the track is smaller than the others but has still hosted the state meet for the last three seasons.

“We only have three facilities,” Johnson said on Thursday. “UVM’s track is going to be available for the regular season. … The only other option is, do we want to do a Vermont state championship meet out of state? That would be a public relations nightmare. … Going out of state, that’s a tough one to sell.”

Several out-of-state facilities already are used by Vermont’s indoor track teams. Thetford, Hartford, Oxbow, Woodstock, Sharon and Windsor all use Dartmouth College’s Leverone Field House for both practices and regular-season meets, competing against Lebanon, Hanover and other New Hampshire indoor track teams. Southern Vermont teams use Williams College’s Herbert S. Towne Field House in Williamstown, Mass. Thetford, Hartford and others have gone as far as Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H., for regular season meets in the past.

“It will definitely be different if something doesn’t pan out for us,” Perry said. “I’d have 25 to 30 kids not doing anything (in the winter). I’d try and be proactive, just have a weight-training season. That would help all the spring sports. That’s how I would handle it (if the indoor track season was canceled).”

This year, the VPA has made several changes to the state meet in an attempt to speed up the process. The pole vault has been nixed from states; the triple jump will be cut next year.

“They’re cutting back,” Buttrey said. “It’s honestly a nightmare.”

Divisions I and II will also compete in the same events at the same time, with no more than 12 athletes per division per event.

“We want (the state meet) in Vermont,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t mean we go to UVM. If we ask again at Middlebury we’ll likely get the same answer. We’ll try everything.”

A few things to watch for from Upper Valley teams and individual athletes at Saturday’s meet:

■ Hartford’s girls are young, deep and talented, trying to do better than their second-place finish a year ago.

Kennedy Mullen will get the call in the triple jump, long jump, 300 and 600; Mullen is the top-seeded D-II athlete in all of her events and could give Essex’s Lizzie Martell, in D-I, a run for her money in the 300 and 600. Eleanor Hinckley (high jump, long jump, 55), Gretchen Josselyn (55 hurdles) and Bethany Davis (1,000 and 3,000) are also going for important points as the Canes try to gain ground on two-time D-II champion Rice.

■ The D-II boys team race could come down to a competition between Thetford’s distance specialists and Oxbow’s field and short-distance athletes.

For the Panthers, a title would be its first in school history since organizing its varsity indoor track program two years ago. Knute Linehan is highly ranked in the long jump, triple jump and 300 and could steal some points from Oxbow’s jumpers. But Thetford’s strength is distance running, coming off of a cross country championship win in the fall. Owen Deffner (1,500, 3,000), Tad Darrah (1,000, 3,000) and Ian Spelman (3,000) are all highly seeded. Thetford’s 4x800 team also set a D-II state record earlier this season and could propel them to a title.

Jarret Rock and the Oxbow boys have other ideas, of course. Rock is the top ranked D-II athlete in the long jump and ranked second in the 55. Timothy Hodges could give O’s important points in the triple jump and 55 hurdles, and Oxbow’s 4x200 relay team is ranked first in D-II and third overall.

■ Hartford senior Abayomi Lowe holds the D-II record in both the 55 and 300 and is still the runner to beat in both events. He’s 0.03 seconds off from the top seed in the 300 and a full 1½ seconds from the overall state record. Saturday will be his final indoor meet before New Englands.

Aaron Mitchell will be in the mix for Hartford in the 600 and the long jump. The Canes’ 4x400 relay team — with Lowe as its anchor – should be fun to watch.

Thetford’s girls will be led by sophomore Layla Hanissian in the 1,000. Oxbow’s girls feature sophomore Kelly Daigle in the shot put.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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