An outdoor track needs to clear all the hurdles

Written by Bob Florence

July 15, 2016

Runners take their mark during the senior girls 60-metre race at the Saskatoon high school track and field championships at Griffiths Stadium on May 25.

Saskatoon has had national track events at Grifths since the 1950s. A world record in the 100 metres was set there. Olympic medallists from Great Britain and New Zealand and the United States have run, jump and thrown there. The stadium’s list of local high achievers is a mile long, starting with coach Joe Grifths. There’s decathlete Bob Adams and ofcial Jurgen Wittenberg, coach Lyle Sanderson and sprinter Eleanor Haslam, trainer Chuck Armstrong and distance runner Doug Kyle, pentathlete Diane Jones and sprinter George Short, high jumper Arnie Boldt and coach Dick DuWors, ofcial Harold Mitchelmore and thrower Margaret Tosh, sprinter Colette Bourgonje and therapist Al Bodnarchuk, marathoner Carey Nelson and ofcial Dennis Beerling, sprinter Joanne McTaggart and thrower Bruce Pirnie, walker Tim Berrett and coach Rick Reelie, sprinter Cyprian Enweani and announcer Dale Yellowlees, racer Lisa Franks and vaulter Kelsie Hendry. They’ve reached the top. They’ve travelled the world in track and field.

Although the track at Grifths is owned by the University of Saskatchewan, it has the vibe of a city facility. Clubs train there. Humboldt’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the No. 1-ranked heptathlete in the world this year, trained at Grifths from Grade 9 to Grade 12. School meets are held at Grifths, not just Saskatoon schools, but districts from throughout central Saskatchewan. Because it’s afordable, inner city kids go there. Athletes in other sports stretch and sweat there. Grifths is a happening place, has been for generations.

In 2005, PotashCorp bought lights and seats and artificial turf for the stadium for football. Football became boss. Grifths turned into a school of hard knocks.

The university had a plan. It asked civic leaders for money to help maintain Saskatoon’s outdoor track. No go, the city said. The city said its budget for track and field was already being spent on the Field House, an indoor track next door to Grifths.

The university asked public and Catholic school boards for money.

Let’s keep this good thing going, the university said. Our track is your field, the university said. Sorry, the schools said. No dough.

The university made do. As the track’s surface aged, the U of S became a world leader in putting Band-aids on the blisters, an annual $15,000 scratch-and-dint repair. One year became three, five turned to 10.

Time is up.

Next year, at the end of the Huskies’ 2017 football season, a new artificial grass field will be rolled out for football, stands on the west side of the stadium will move in and track and field will be gone from Grifths.

Saskatoon needs a new track home. The University of Saskatchewan has acres of space. Building an outdoor track on campus makes sense, if only out of self-interest. The Huskies have won 13 team titles in track and field and cross-country at the Canadian university championships, as many as volleyball (7), football (3), basketball (2), hockey (1), soccer (0) and wrestling (0) combined. Yes, the Canadian university track and field season is indoors. But recruits want a university with an outdoor track to train on from spring through fall. If the U of S doesn’t have an outdoor track, home-towners will pack and leave. Made in Saskatchewan students-athletes will become a feeding trough for universities outside the province.

Even if the university doesn’t have an outdoor track, Saskatoon needs one. The city knows it. Mind you, for years the city said the football field in Holiday Park had to be upgraded. Mayor Hem, Councillor Haw and the Department of Whife and Bluster were talk, not action. It took a group of doers led by Johnny Marciniuk to make a new football field, a new clubhouse, new washrooms and a new sound and lighting system happen in Saskatoon.

The city insists a new outdoor track is in its 10-year plan. Track can’t wait.

The Hub City Track Council, a partnership of all the track clubs in the city, met with Saskatoon Football Inc. about putting a track around Holiday Park’s new football field in 2014. The new football field is artificial turf, though, not natural grass. To hold a competition, in javelin especially, track needs the real thing. The idea didn’t fly.

The Track Council considered the soccer complex in Forest Grove near Centennial Collegiate. Track hit a familiar hurdle. Soccer fields there are on artificial grass. Track moved on. Track keeps looking for a home.

Evan Hardy, E.D. Feehan and Mount Royal have dirt tracks, but minimum maintenance. The best training those tracks offer is the sticks-by-stones relay.

The Hub City Track Council has ideas. It has initiative. It says it has seed money for a track. What it needs is land.

If a world-class athlete develops on a new outdoor track in Saskatoon, that’s a bonus. Somehow, some way, believers achieve, regardless of their situation and setting.

Consider coach Sanderson. When he was prepping Diane Jones and Joanne McTaggart for the 1976 Olympics, they frequented Regina, driving back and forth from Saskatoon because training on the track in Regina was superior to the old, cinder surface track at Grifths. To train Jones for long jump, Sanderson put a black rollout on the runway to the sand pit at Grifths.

Jones was sixth in pentathlon in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, McTaggart fourth in the 4×100 relay.

Consider Enweani. In the late ’70s, before Saskatoon had the Field House, he did winter training in the underground parking lot at Midtown Plaza. Enweani went on to be a semi-finalist in the 1988 Olympics in the 200 metres.

For most of us, an outdoor track isn’t about records and ribbons. The track is like a ball diamond or a swimming pool, a golf course or a hockey rink. An outdoor track is a place to do a workout, to meet friends, to have a blast. For two hours, we can park our texting and twittering. We can exercise our lungs instead of suffering Google overload.

An outdoor track in Saskatoon isn’t a coliseum for the few. It’s a place for the many.

A track is wanted. A track is needed.