TERRE HAUTE — Grand memories usher in a new era for ISU track
John McNichols won his first Missouri Valley Conference championship in outdoor track at Indiana State’s Marks Field back in 1988. He’s gone on to win eight more — in addition to his two indoor track and eight cross country crowns.
In 2016, McNichols will have a chance to add that outdoor title total on the site of a brand new facility — proposed to be named Gibson Track and Field by ISU President Dan Bradley.
McNichols couldn’t help but reminisce for much of his speech that included thank yous to Max Gibson and family for the financial gifts to make a new track alongside the Wabash River possible.
Coach John Gartland played a part in memories at Marks Field as well, leading the ISU women’s track team to the 1993 MVC title alongside the champion men’s team’s second title at the now-retired track.
That came on the heels of a 1992 major remodel of the facility.
“Marks Field has been a great facility for us, very convenient. A lot of great things have happened to our program there. It was time to look for a new site,” McNichols said.
The Sycamores will hope to have a home meet in the spring of 2015 and it will be ISU’s turn to host the Missouri Valley meet in 2016.
“We’re well known for hosting cross country nationals so it’s going to be an exciting time,” ISU distance ace John Mascari said. “New track, new PRs, it’s going to be a heck of a ride the next couple seasons.”
ISU women’s coach Angie Martin hopes the new facility can help in training and recruiting.
“We’ve had a good tradition here with ISU student athletes. This is going to give us an opportunity to keep training well, hopefully keep us injury free. We’re very blessed to have a new track,” Martin said. “I’m really excited. It’s a great thing for the university, the city of Terre Haute.”
ISU alumnae Christy Sherman, a two-time NCAA runner-up in outdoor shot put, spoke to those gathered at Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony.
“When I competed here, we didn’t have any home track meets. Being able to come watch a track meet in your home city, it’s going to be a great experience for everybody. I think it’s going to be wonderful,” Sherman said.
McNichols and community officials will hope to attract events of larger scale than the conference tournament as the facility moves beyond Phase 1 of the process to a Phase 2 that will include a grandstand and press box.
Several Sycamores trained on their way to NCAA titles at Marks Field.
A 19-year-old Jim Ryun — the first American high school runner to break the four-minute mile — set a world record in the 880-yard run there on June 10, 1966 with a time of 1:44.9, according to Mike McCormick’s book “Terre Haute: Queen City of the Wabash.”
The ISU and Terre Haute community hope to welcome more big-time track athletes at the new facility. The goal is to eventually bid to host an NCAA regional or NCAA championship on the banks of the Wabash River.
“I’ve been involved in the planning for two or three years,” McNichols said. “My responsibility is to be sure we lay the foundation for a facility that will be able to be used for major competitions, kind of taken the same philosophy we did initially with the cross country course.”
Gartland enjoyed the recap of Marks Field’s history while anticipating the new track.
“This will be a great facility over here. President Bradley and the whole university is committed to doing this very well. It will be neat to see the phases as they add things on here,” Gartland said.
The track is the first step in a long-term plan for ISU athletics, and while elite track and field competitors will compete at the site, community members will be able to enjoy a maturing trail system that will be adjacent to the track.
“Indiana State is proud to serve as a catalyst in transforming the Banks of the Wabash from an abandoned industrial site to a destination for family friendly activities,” president Bradley told the crowd Monday. “We are pleased to partner with Wabash River Development and Beautification in envisioning a sports and recreational area along the riverbanks complete with extended trails for walking, jogging and biking. Blending this with the activities and educational opportunities provided by the Wabishiki Fish and Wildlife area will be transformative.”
Runners and cyclists are already taking advantage of a trail system on the West side of the Wabash River. The Heritage Trail will be expanded from ISU’s campus across first street, pass by where the new track will be located and that trail will eventually go south of Interstate 70.
“The setting is going to be very pleasing. That’s the university will go ahead and begin that trail progress in conjunction with the current [track] construction. It appears our East bank trail along the river should be complete in the next year-and-a-half,” McNichols said.
“It’s pretty remarkable. Shows a strong direction from the community and the importance the trail system has to our community leaders. And it should result in a healthier community.”
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (812) 231-4357. Follow him on Twitter @TribStarCraig.