Erin Fox was so excited about Dover’s new track, she out-raced teammate McLean Fleming to be the first one to touch it. Fox, a Tigers senior, actually knelt and put her palms on the surface before the first cross country practice late last summer. Dover hosted its first dual meet in a decade on March 27, a windswept scrimmage versus Newton. There were a few glitches and many delays — discus had to be completed before the runners could start because the safety catchfence hadn’t been finished — but the Tigers’ enthusiasm overflowed.
“It was more of a relief we finally got somewhere to compete at home,” said Fox, a middle-distance runner and hurdler who has been part of Dover’s track program since sixth grade. “I remember getting on a bus and traveling for 20, 30 minutes at a time, going to a place that’s foreign, we don’t know how the track works and people don’t know us. Now they get to come here and see it’s a nice place, and see who we really are, and who we’ve come to be.”
The last school in Morris County to upgrade its track and field facility, Dover’s new all-weather surface was part of a three-step construction project to revitalize Hamilton Field. The project actually started in the summer of 2011, Dover athletic director Sean Bullock said, with new bleachers and a press box, then a FieldTurf football field, which opened last September. The track construction began in June, and included fresh sod for an all-purpose practice field which will be used by middle and high school teams, as well as community groups.
In addition to the six-lane track, Dover has two horizontal jumping pits so the long and triple jump can be held simultaneously, as well as new throwing circles and a javelin runway in the middle of the new field.
“It’s a fresh start,” said Fleming, a sophomore distance runner. “We’re going to try harder to win the home meets. It gave us the extra push we need to have a good season. Now we can literally defend our home turf.”
Erin’s mother, Carmela Fox, and Mercedes Benjamin, mom of Dover shot putter Patrick Metellus, waited impatiently for the scrimmage to begin last week. Senior distance runner Melissa DeHorta expected her mother, Olga, who works at the nearby Rockaway Mall, to attend some dual meets this year. All the Tigers were already encouraging their friends to make the short trip down the hill from the high school.
“While we were running, we said, ‘When are we getting our own track?’ ” DeHorta said. “My mom’s so proud of me, and she always wants to see me, but she’s working. Our friends in the high school can see us run here. We get more nervous, because people will come watch us, but more kids are going to do it because they see the track.”
The Tigers had been practicing on the same cinder track head coach Wayne Valentine had used when he was a student at Dover High School, as well as inside the school building, in the parking lot, and occasionally traveling to other schools.
Now in his 50th year as a track coach, Valentine was particularly proud of what his teams have endured. But he also highlighted Hamilton Field’s history — Mark Muro of Essex Catholic set the national javelin record at the 1967 Dover Invitational — and Dover alumnus Leon Pras’ Morris County Championships record in the 110-meter hurdles has stood since 1958.
Said Valentine, a former miler whose grandchildren are now involved with the sport, “I’m happy I’m still coaching when they switched.”
Added Benjamin, a secretary at East Dover Elementary school, “Finally, we can watch them. To us, it’s extra special, because we work here too. We like being the envy of the county. Just look at our field.”