Over the past three years, Sumner County has had its prep track programs experience strong performances at the state level.
With athletes such as Station Camp High alum Josh Malone, Beech alums Julia and Jessica Rizor, Gallatin alum Brett Neelly and current Green Wave senior Adam Neelly among others, that should not be a surprise.
However, what if folks from outside the county came in and had a look at the facilities these standouts and current track and field athletes currently use and compete on?
They might be shocked – and more importantly, disappointed – to find that they’re sub-par.
Hendersonville has the only functioning track at a public school in Sumner County, last resurfaced in 2009, and it’s nearly unusable now.
Bare patches in every lane grow bigger and bigger by the day. These are potholes for track athletes … and they’re as dangerous as potholes on the interstate are to your car.
Recently, the eight public schools came together for the 14th annual Sumner County Track and Field Championship Meet (in the interest of full disclosure, it is sponsored by the Gallatin News Examiner and the Hendersonville Star News).
Unless something is done about the condition of the track at Hendersonville, there won’t be a 15th edition of the meet.
Multiple runners fell during the meet from hitting bare patches of asphalt. One of them – Gallatin senior Kelsey Warren – fell at the finish line to end the 200-meter dash. She still managed to place second on her way to most valuable athlete honors.
“This is the only place in Sumner County that we can have (the meet) at,” Warren said. “If we’re going to have good track athletes come out of Gallatin, Tenn., and Sumner County, we need to invest in a very good track.”
The track shoes these runners use aren’t made for running on asphalt or concrete. It’s too dangerous for them.
Beech’s boys 400-meter relay team entered last year’s meet seeded 10th and finished third – but it had to practice handoffs at Hunters Lane High School. Beech’s track – which is not rubberized – isn’t safe for practicing higher-speed events.
Gallatin had the only other rubberized track at a public school in this county earlier in the 2000s. However, the Green Wave Quarterback Club provided for that improvement, and it hasn’t been updated since then.
The high-school coaches do yeoman’s work with the facilities they have, but often times, the teams can’t practice on a competitive surface unless they go outside the county. That often happens on weekends when they’re not competing.
Julia Rizor ran 10 seconds slower in the 800-meter run at 2015 state meet. One week following the state meet, she was diagnosed with a stress fracture – potentially from training on harder surfaces – and she had to miss what would have been her first two races at the University of Tennessee while still recovering from the injury.
As Beech’s coaching staff discovered, among 85 Class AAA schools statewide, 69 have daily access to a rubberized track surface for training on their campus. Of the 16 that don’t, four – Beech, Gallatin, Portland and Station Camp – reside in Sumner County.
Players in other sports also use those facilities for training. Physical-education classes use track facilities. Middle schools that have track programs also use them for practice. They’re also open to the public, as not everyone has a greenway nearby.
From 2013-2015, 38 athletes represented Sumner schools in 56 total events at the state meet, including four state champions – Brett Neelly’s three-peat in the discus and Julia Rizor’s 800-meter victory in 2014 – coming from that group.
However, that number plummeted over the three-year span. Seven schools sent athletes in 2013, four did so in 2014 and only two – Beech and Gallatin – last year.
The number of events featuring at least one Sumner County athlete dipped from 24 in 2014 to nine last year.
There are good athletes who will overcome the poor conditions of their respective tracks to reach the state meet. The bigger question is, why should they have to overcome adversity at their own schools?
My alma mater, Macon County, has begun taking bids to resurface its track. Maybe we can hold next year’s county meet there. Pope John Paul II High has a track facility, but that’s another can of worms most don’t want to open.
Perhaps Gallatin senior Edrico Briscoe – who, as it currently stands. will be the final male most valuable athlete of the county meet – said it best regarding the current state of the lone functioning competitive track in one of the state’s 10 largest counties.
“Please help,” Briscoe said. “This is a great tradition. It’s a lot of fun and great competition.”
It’s also Sumner County’s only hope to compete on the state level.
Reach Chris Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 615-575-7118. Follow him on Twitter @CB_SumnerSports.