USI’s track and field has developed into one of the most competitive programs in the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC), but the lack of an on-campus facility could be hurting the team.
The team finished third at the GLVC Indoor Championship, but there are still no plans to build an on-campus facility. The team travels to the athletic complex at F. J. Reitz High School for practice, which is located about 10 minutes east of USI on Barker Avenue.
“The interesting thing about our cross-country and track program is that it was really set up to be a cross-country program exclusively when it was first started,” Athletic Director Jon Mark Hall said. “What’s happened over time is our distance runners started to run track events.”
One roadblock to constructing an on-campus facility is that the university doesn’t have a budget for track.
“We just try to build on the cross-country (budget),” Hall said.
Hall did not give an exact time for when the administration would consider building a facility.
“We don’t have anything solidified but I think … for us to have a successful track program, we are obviously going to have to have a facility on campus, or a better facility off campus, for them to practice at,” he said.
The success of the track team is one thing that may motivate the administration to take action more quickly.
“Anytime you have some success and can see that it could be (more) successful, it makes you want to push a little harder to get something like that done,” Hall said.
The team practices at Reitz for the indoor and outdoor seasons. Dealing with the weather is just another obstacle to overcome.
“There have been days where we shoveled snow off of lanes one and two in order to do workouts,” Track and Field Head Coach Mike Hillyard said. “Fortunately, we have a nice rec and fitness center, and there are plenty of treadmills (so) we can cancel practice and tell the kids to go on their own time.”
No athlete receives a scholarship for participating in track and field. Scholarships are given only to cross-country athletes. Many of these athletes prefer to run year-round, so they participate in both.
“In large part due to facility restrictions, we kind of restricted recruiting to primarily just the distance events – athletes who run cross-country in the fall and then run the distance events in spring,” Hillyard said.
“Now the distance athletes don’t really require as much time on the track. It’s not as crucial as a sprinter, hurdler or a jumper, where those facilities become paramount.”
Not having on-campus facilities can also have negative effects on the team’s morale and level of camaraderie.
“As for team-building, we all practice at different times, whenever we are available,” said USI junior Marquis Hunter.
USI does not have to pay Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation to use the athletic complex at Reitz, so financially, it makes sense for the university to use the facility right now.
“It just hurts us in the long run,” Hunter said. “We just have to get the workouts in, so we have to come out here.”