By Mike Smith
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Mascenic rehosting home meets on the only dirt track used to contest meets in high school track. When I arrived as coach at Mascenic 23 years ago, we would customarily host one meet a season, scrambling for help raking the long jump pit and measuring throws. The head coach was a field guy, so the “ state” of the track was never his concern. That left me trying to work out where the lanes were, where the start lines were, where the hurdles went and everything else that goes with managing the running events. Needless to say, once I assumed the head coaching position, I steered away from home meets and towards lanes with permanent marks and faster running surfaces.
Fast forward a dozen or so years, with both some experience under my belt and a strong enough program that we could run some pretty solid times regardless of the surface, I had the desire to bring back a home meet so our faithful would be able to see their kids run at home on a Saturday. Being around long enough I realized that people expect certain things out of a meet, a regular schedule, all the usual events and most recently FAT timing. I also realized there were events we just couldn’t offer and match the quality of other meets so I decided to leave them out. In doing so we added some events not usually seen at regular season meets and created our own “brand” of dirt track meet. We invited our local competition along with a handful of schools that would enjoy the unique nature of what we do.
And for the most part, the last nine years have been great. I’ve grown fond of the old track, and as everywhere else has transitioned away from stone dust tracks (and for good reason), I learned to cherish our throwback “vintage” track and I truly believe that some of the success we’ve had over the years is due to the rustic nature that forces us to be a bit creative in developing workouts considering the tracks limitations.
However for almost equally the same amount of time I’ve been pressing to “upgrade” the track. Upgrade really isn’t the correct term. It’d be more like maintain. I’m not talking regular prep work. I work closely with the maintenance guys in “smoothing” the track and removing footprints (human and otherwise) coming out of the winter as the surface becomes very soft just before the ground freezes and right after. This usually means a light workover with a York rake and dragging with a steel “rug” to fill in the divots. The afternoon before meets has me out with the drag behind my vehicle making twenty or so circuits of the track so it’s just right for meet day.
But in all the years I’ve been at Mascenic. we’ve only added stone dust once and then it was only to relevel the track, filling in depressions so the track is all on one even plane. Every dragging disperses a little stone dust, subtracting from the total volume covering the sub base.
A few years ago the base started to come through in certain areas of the track. Not much, along with in places that don’t see much action, meant we could work around it until the track was renovated. I’ve advocated for the last five years we make these upgrades, only to be told that it wasn’t in the budget.
This past year, in dragging the track to remove the grass that grows up in it from time to time, the sub base started coming through over more than 60% of the track. As a track official along with a coach who wants to present the best possible product we can and wants to insure no one gets hurt due to our facilities, I deemed the track unusable for competition. I brought the issue before our new superintendent as I had been doing for those that came before her. But like always, and especially under this Covid situation, there seems to be little movement.
Over the past twenty years I have been the only voice to advocate for adequate attention for the track. I’ve battled ignorant soccer coaches and their teams that feel it’s not important for them to stay off lane one where we used to turn laps in preparation for the cross country state championships. I’ve advocated that we sign the track to keep the locals off it when they stop up to walk laps, putting 2 inch deep footprints that become somewhat permanent every spring. We’ve taken steps to keep vehicles off it when they open the gates to allow cars to drive up to the upper fields so parents can watch their kids play baseball and softball without luck. I’ve lodged these concerns with four different superintendents, three different ADs, four principals and two different facility directors. And just the other day I was filling in foot drag and cleat marks out of lane one that are mysteriously the same distance from home plate to the pitching rubber in the softball field.
I am tired.
In 1833, British economist William Foster Lloyd wrote about what would become the “tragedy of the commons,” identifying what would happen when the community would allow their sheep to overgraze the village “common” looking for the most individual benefit without thought towards the impact of everyone else. This, I’m afraid, is where the Mascenic track is today.
We still use the track for workouts, but we opt for it less and less. My athletes are aware how thoughtless others are with the condition of the track. We’ve been told by teams that since we run in the woods, why worry what the track is like? I mean I’ve been told I shouldn’t be so protective of it as it’s only a dirt track.
What others fail to realize, that while it is ONLY a dirt track, it’s also the only track we have. And while they might despise it, only thinking of the mile they had to run on it for PE, four times around and back to the heel mark scratched into its stone dust surface, it serves a purpose and to truly do so, it needs to be in a certain condition. A condition it’s no longer in. I for one have enjoyed the soft forgiving surface that has forged more than one State Champion over the years.
Rest in peace.
Due to Covid and the need for meets, we will be hosting two “grass track” races on a uniquely sculpted oval to the inside of the dirt track. While mirroring the finishing straight on the front side of the track, the course will “bow in” on the far side of the track to make up the extra distance.