South Charlotte

Indoor track athletes left out in the cold

For local high schools, indoor track has always been a bit of a misnomer. Most of the practices are outdoors and many schools only run one meet indoors each season besides the state championship. The rest are outside.

This year, the "indoor" label is even less fitting as the N.C. High School Athletic Association will host a "winter track championship" at an outdoor venue in Fayetteville.

The Eddie Smith Field House at UNC Chapel Hill, which usually hosts the championship on its indoor track, can't be used this year because construction on the campus rendered it unusable, according to a NCHSAA press release. The championships will now be held outside at Reid Ross Sports Complex in Fayetteville Feb. 12.

"It's disappointing for the kids who look forward to running on a real indoor track," said Myers Park coach John Cline. "It's a special treat for those kids."

The UNC facility is the only one in the state. Appalachian State has a small indoor track facility, but several coaches said it wouldn't be suitable for a full meet.

The lack of facilities in the state is "actually surprising to me," said Ardrey Kell coach Brian Zelk. "I don't know if it's just the fact that these colleges don't want to spend the money on the sport."

Charlotte Catholic coach Mark Landi also said he's surprised that there are no other facilities in the state with all the colleges around.

Providence coach Steven Touranjoe thought there had to be a way to hold the meet inside.

"I felt there had to be a school that had an indoor track that wasn't being used," he said.

The NCHSAA considered holding the meet at a facility out of state, like Clemson University, Liberty University or Virginia Tech before ultimately deciding to hold it in Fayetteville.

Touranjoe said he plans on taking his team to a meet at Liberty so they have a chance to run on a indoor track.

"That's what we're looking forward to," he said. Other coaches said they're considering it, but usually schools only go to regular season indoor meets to prepare runners for running inside at the state meet. UNC normally hosts a regular season meet that many state schools go to.

Schools also usually have several unscored "polar bear" meets at outdoor high school tracks to give athletes a chance to qualify for the state meet.

Temperature isn't the only difference between running indoor and outdoor. Indoor tracks (200 meters) are shorter than outdoor tracks (400 meters), which means the track is more congested inside and there are more turns. Because of that, outdoor times are usually much faster than inside.

Indoor track season is often used as a way to keep runners in shape between cross country and outdoor track seasons and usually has smaller teams. This year, because of the state championship situation and the new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools participation fee for sports ($100 per sport), some schools have seen lower turnout.

Zelk said he decided to field two groups in the winter season at Ardrey Kell, a 25-member competition team and a 35-40 member conditioning group that is trying to stay in shape for the spring season.

South Mecklenburg coach Paul Hargrove has seen his team fall to seven members this year compared to the regular 40. With the decreased participation and lack of an indoor championship, Hargrove, who ran indoors in New York and coached there for five years, questions the sport's legitimacy.

"North Carolina is not invested in or taking the season of indoor track seriously," he said in an e-mail. "Unless more facilities can be placed in the state, in many ways, the indoor season should not be in place. It can be a very viable experience for athletes in the state if it can get the backing."

Touranjoe said he likes the season because it still gives his runners a chance to compete.

"I like still being with the kids and being active in racing and competing," he said. "I'm glad we were able to get the state meet, but I'm disappointed we couldn't get it indoors."

Cline said he's looking forward to having the championships back indoors.

"Hopefully it's just a temporary issue," he said.

"We just hope that we'll get a warm day in Fayetteville when they host the state meet."