Track community using Battle of Lake to open some eyes |

Track community using Battle of Lake to open some eyes

Column Steve Yingling, Tribune Sports Editor

Give area prep track and field coaches Rick Brown and Anthony Davis their dues. They’re on to something special.

Coaches in other sports should pay close attention, because these motivated men have found a way to rekindle an interest in track and field in this community.

They’re embroiling in some harmless trash talking. They’re encouraging out-of-shape parents to dig out their old sweats and running shoes. They’re getting businesses involved. They’ve added middle school children to the competitive mix.

By the time South Tahoe clashes with Whittell in the Battle of the Lake on April 27, the students athletes will be so amped for the community-minded meet, they’ll feel like they’re competing in a state meet.

But a community track and field competition is only a minute part of what Brown and Davis hope to accomplish with the second annual event. The broad scope is refurbishing the surface used for the 1968 U.S. Summer Olympic Trials and transforming the South Tahoe Middle School venue into a legitimate track and field facility.

“Over the 30 years that civic pride for hosting the 1968 Olympic Trials just went elsewhere,” said Brown, the STHS boys track coach who vividly remembers running on the revered surface for the first time as a high school senior. “There are a lot of people, especially a lot of them who arrived in South Lake Tahoe after the ’70s, that don’t have any idea what that facility is because there’s nothing there.”

Davis and Brown release facetious laughs when pointing out that the sign and scoreboard at the track reads, “Home of the South Tahoe High Soccer Team.” Considering that Bill Toomey, Bob Beamon, Dick Fosbury, Tommie Smith and Lee Evans are some of the notable U.S. gold medalists from that year, they believe the facility should accentuate its significant track and field history.

“We want to put something up there that commemorates what happened in 1968, so that anybody who walks onto that track will see something that is in writing: “Home of the 1968 Olympic Trials;” something that showcases what in the opinions of many is the greatest U.S. Men’s Olympic Team in history,” Brown said.

But that’s only part of their dream. They want to resurface the historic track, provide stadium seating and rework the logistics of most of the field events.

At an estimated cost of $200,000 to resurface the crumbling track, Davis and Brown realize they’ll need all kinds of help. Consequently, they’ve established the South Tahoe Track Foundation with hopes of raising money through memberships, special events and monetary and construction donations.

“Our goal is to get as much of this donated as we can by local businessmen,” Brown said. “Kids have dads who are contractors and can donate their efforts to this cause. In turn, we will put their names on the contributors’ Hall of Fame wall for nothing.”

Their grand intentions are noble, but unrealistic considering the city’s reluctance to add or improve recreational facilities. But since this project won’t be financed by the city, anything is possible.

That is why the track coaches want to bring about the awareness of this massive project through a friendly community competition.

“What better way to show what you’re trying to do than to host an event on the facility that you’re trying to make better. To show the community that this truly should be ours and can be an event and a community place to get interest back in the sport that brought the track here in the first place,” Brown said.

Don’t blame these guys if they start acting like Don King by drumming up some interest in the Battle of the Lake. Unlike a typical meet, parents should leave their school colors at home and instead bring their running gear. For $5, adults can enter open 100- and 1,600-meter races. In addition, a parents’ 400 relay race is on the agenda in an attempt to embarrass them or make them realize how tough their athletic children have it.

“The parents can get a better perspective of what these athletes are going through in training because I’m pretty sure after they run that 4-by-100 relay, they’ll be looking for the Ben Gay, hot tubs and the oxygen,” said Davis, the Battle of the Lake meet director, who has also added local middle schools Kingsbury, STMS and St. Theresa to the mix.

“Parents relays have now become nonexistent in a lot of meets, and they should be there. It allows everyone in the community to come out and watch or participate. That’s going with the community format. We have an event for everyone,” Davis said.

As for the South Tahoe-Whittell showdown, it’s an intriguing matchup that usually isn’t played out in athletic competition because the California school is four times larger than its Nevada neighbor. Understandably, the Vikings are cocky. Meanwhile, the Warriors are seething over the fact that scoring was kept last year, even though many of their competitors participated in events outside their norm because of an impending state meet.

With all of this playful animosity disseminating, the kids need something of material value to compete for. Humboldt State and Chico State used to compete for the ax. The Whittell-STHS rivalry needs a permanent trophy. Students have suggested a helmet.

Considering, the track is covered by snow for part of the season, a sturdy snow shovel should get the schools’ competitive juices flowing.

About the only thing missing from this refreshing competition is an adequate track facility. But maybe that will happen. No, it will happen. Brown and Davis will see to that.

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