By DOUG DONNELLY
OTTAWA LAKE – For the first time in more than four decades, Whiteford High School is getting a new track.
Construction began picking up this week on the new all-weather track being built in the same spot as the old track was, on the east side of the school property. The Bobcats are expected to be able to host its first home track meet since the late-2000s next spring.
“My dream when I first started to coach track at Whiteford was to see a track built while I was coaching there,” said Whiteford girls and boys track and field head coach Mike Hughes. “I’m sure anyone who has run track at Whiteford will be excited to come out when we host the first meet on the new track. It will be a special day for sure.”
The existing track was built in the mid-1970s. The last time Whiteford hosted a track meet on its cinder-track was 2008.
“It was my 10th and final year there,” said Jamie LaRocca, who was the Bobcat coach at the time. “I fought to get home meets.”
Whiteford voters approved a $15.4 million bond issue in November. The overall investment will address school safety, enrich technology programs, and upgrade art, band, choir and weight rooms. The track construction is underway now and things like a new bus garage, bus loop and gymnasium are coming later.
“I’m so grateful for the Whiteford community in passing the millage and the school to have a vision for a new track,” Hughes said.
The track under construction will be an 8-lane, all-weather track with new high jump, long jump, pole vault and throws areas. A fence will be installed around it. A football practice area will remain inside of the track.
The pole vault area is something new. LaRocca said during his tenure, in fact, that was one of the reasons he sought to get home meets.
“The Tri-County Conference would score points for four places in events,” he said. “So, if we were running at Sand Creek, who had pole vaulters and we did not, we’d start out the meet down 11 point. But, if you were the home team and the home team didn’t offer the vault, no points could be taken away, which put us on an even playing field.”
Except for a brief period in the early 1980s, track has been part of Whiteford’s sports offerings since 1960. The team did not have a home track in the 1960s.
“We would practice our sprints by running the hallway in the school from the high school all the way down to the gym at the other end of the school,” said Leonard Stovall, a 1967 Whiteford graduate. He played baseball and ran track in the spring. “For the longer stuff, I remember people had to run from the practice football field all the way to Sterns Road and back.”
Several Bobcat athletes have earned All-State honors over the years and the 2007 Whiteford boys track team coached by LaRocca captured the Division 4 state championship despite not having an all-weather, home track to practice on.
LaRocca is a Summerfield graduate who not only coached the Bobcats but is now the Summerfield head track coach. He has some fond memories of the Whiteford track.
“I ran on that track,” he said. “Plus, that’s where I met my wife (Whiteford graduate Cindy Heiney) – at a Summerfield-Whiteford meet in 1977.”
Construction on the new track is on pace to be completed this fall.
“It will be awesome and used for years to come,” Hughes said. “A lot of planning and thought went into the facility. It will be great.”