Running down a dream: Former Google engineer donates $250K to middle school track

William Ferchland
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Ray Sidney of Big George Ventures said he will donate $250,000 to help the restoration of the track at South Tahoe Middle School. Officials believe there is enough funding and donations to cover the estimated $2.2 million needed to restore the track by August.

Thanks to a hefty donation from a former Google software engineer, the restoration plan for the track at South Tahoe Middle School has fleet feet for an August completion date.

Ray Sidney, who moved to Stateline after leaving Google when the Internet search engine company went public, is set to donate $250,000 to the multi-million dollar project that would replace the decrepit track once used to train athletes for the 1968 Olympics with a synthetic nine-lane track with an artificial field in the middle.

It is the largest private monetary donation for the project and in line with other gifts from Sidney, who owns the real estate development company Big George Ventures. Past donations included $200,000 for Kahle Community Center’s weight room and $1.7 million for a state-of-the art football field and track at Douglas High School in Minden.

“I’m a bit of an easy mark maybe,” Sidney joked.

The estimated $2.2 million project has secured enough funding for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board of Education to vote Tuesday whether to put the project out to bid.

“I think it’s absolutely exciting for the whole town because if we get that track completed I think it’s going to bring in a lot of business for the town,” said board president Barbara Bannar, envisioning soccer tournaments.

The project was also deemed as the first stage of a joint-use facility between the school district, City of South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County. The second is a shared government complex while the third is a community theater.

Karin Holmes, a physical education instructor at the middle school who has headed an effort to restore the track, said home track meets for South Lake Tahoe schools are at Carson Middle School.

Holme’s committee, Track Renovation 4 Community & Kids, has raised $50,000 for the effort, an impressive but paltry amount in the scheme of things.

“I can’t believe it’s actually happening,” she said. “It will be unbelievable for everybody once its done … The track right now is so bad the kids have to be careful on it all the time.”

Architect Brett Long conceptualized the idea for landscaping, track-and-field features and bleachers.

“From the $250,000 to the person who gives $50, it’s all really important because we’re going to use every cent of it I’m sure,” Long said.

The first phase of the project will remove the existing track, known for its cracked surface, propensity to collect puddles and uneven lanes. Irrigation will be improved, along with handicap access and landscaping.

Retaining walls and fencing are in the plans. So is infrastructure for future restrooms and concession stands. A public address system is envisioned. The field is expected to have soccer and basic football field lines inlaid into the turf.

Jim Ferguson Excavation, along with John Marchini and Jeff Tillman of South Tahoe Refuse, are expected to donate $300,000 worth of work to remove the track.

Sidney, who graduated from Harvard with an undergraduate in mathematics and earned a doctorate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes his money will be used for the field’s turf.

Big George Ventures derived its name from Sidney’s siblings calling each other George, he said.

The triathlete moved to Tahoe to enjoy its outdoor activities. He’s already participated in the grueling Death Ride and has ridden around Lake Tahoe. In a meeting with the Tahoe Daily Tribune for a photograph at the track, he was seen without a car, walking with a paperback book.

Sidney admitted he isn’t much of a soccer player but acknowledged Americans need more exercise. After being contacted by district Superintendent Jim Tarwater, he did some research, visited the track and thought the project was worthwhile.

One might wonder what’s next for Sidney. He gave a hint, saying it’s difficult to ride road bikes during Tahoe winters.

“We’re still working on figuring that out,” he said with a laugh.

Once-distant dream on fast track to reality

Used to help American athletes train in high-elevation for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, the track neighboring South Tahoe Middle School has aged quickly with cracks, indents and wobbly lanes.

A plan to renovate the track has existed for several years. Donations, including $250,000 from a former Google software engineer, helped reach the estimated $2.2 million needed for the project.

The following funding sources have been identified:

$900,000 … LTUSD Capital Facilities Developer Fees

$350,000 … Physical Education Grant from California

$270,000 … City of South Lake Tahoe

$250,000 … Ray Sidney of Big George Ventures

$150,000 … LTUSD carryover for track project

$50,000 … TR4CK for fence listing donors

$500 … Women of the Moose, Chapter 408

$250 … Allen Vinson, attorney

TBD … Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation

TBD … Support South Tahoe Athletic Teams

TBD … El Dorado County

Source: LTUSD

Anyone wishing to donate to the project can visit or contact Karin Holmes at (530) 541-6404, ext. 215.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.