Fall prep sports season is in the air. Summer camps are underway, and practices can officially begin in a mere 19 days. And after years of negotiating the rough and uneven surfaces of their eight-lane track, Hotchkiss High School athletes now have a smooth rubberized surface to train on and to sink their cleats into.
A months-long resurfacing project was recently completed at Bulldog Stadium. The project was one of many the Delta County School District has completed at area schools over the last three years. Last spring the track was closed throughout track and field season to allow for stabilizing work, and this summer Fisher Tracks out of Boone, Iowa, laid down a soft, permeable polyurethane base mat and marked the lanes and exchange zones in bright, shiny paint.
Two-time state champion track team member Kaiya Firor said she hasn't taken a run on the new surface yet, but is glad it's fixed, since it was in bad shape. And former track and cross country runner Katie Parsons, who now runs cross country at Baylor University, has taken a test run and said it's a "big improvement."
The eight-lane track was originally built in the late 1990s with grants from Great Outdoors Colorado lottery funds and a long list of donors and contributors whose names are posted at the entrance to the sports facility.
The track was showing its age. Head cross country and track coach Kelly Cowan said the unstable clay soil beneath the track caused it to settle. As a result it had become pocked with potholes and rough spots that filled with water when it rained, and the inside lane was uneven and unsafe. Last spring the facility was closed the entire track season for stabilization work. The team held daily practices and their annual invitational meet in Delta, which meant a lot of miles in a bus.
Cowan said he's pleased with the improvements. "It will allow us to bring our invitational (track meet) back to HHS, and allow athletes to hold their daily workouts "on a superb surface. I know our athletes will not only enjoy the track more, but also benefit from the type of surface on it now."
Runners aren't the only ones to benefit. The long and triple jump runways and high jump pit pad were also re-surfaced. In addition the school parking lot was resurfaced and drainage system corrected. The school tennis courts, which have been unusable for several years, were also recently resurfaced.
And when the Bulldogs play their season opener football game on Sept. 1, spectators can enjoy the game from shiny new bleachers, complete with hand rails and a handicap access ramp.
The projects were among several completed at high schools throughout the district over the last three years, said District assistant superintendent Kurt Clay. Projects were paid for out of Capital Construction funds budgeted over the past few years.
Each summer the district tries to do at least one big project at each of its high schools, said Clay. Parking lots were re-surfaced, Cedaredge High School also has new bleachers, and Delta High School's bleachers were replaced in 2016. "They were all out of compliance," said Clay.
In the past year Paonia Junior/Senior High School also saw some big improvements. The school parking lots were resurfaced, and this spring the practice track was improved.
"It was a surprise to me when they did it," said head track coach Brian Mitchem.
As part of the Flight of the Eagle Project, a collaborative effort between the district, students and the Paonia community to raise funds for a new sports facility, the high school also now has throwing rings and long and triple jump pits. In improving the practice track the district also put in infrastructure, curbing and drains in anticipation of building a sports facility in the future, said Mitchem. "It was great for the district to step forward and do this."
And while athletes can get in a good workout on the compacted red gravel surface, it's not good for getting accurate times or working on skills, such as hurdles and relay handoffs, which require a real track, said Mitchem, whose girls teams have won five consecutive Class 2A state track titles and set numerous state and district records.
But until last spring athletes haven't had anything resembling a real track to practice on and for several years the teams traveled to Hotchkiss twice a week to hone their skills. With the Hotchkiss track closed, last spring Paonia athletes traveled two or three days a week to Delta High School.
There's one more big benefit worth mentioning. Mitchem said the track has seen a lot of use since the resurfacing project. Not only that, "It's also getting some use by the community."