Even before their very first meet, the University High School track and field team had already broken a school record.
“This is the largest team we’ve ever had,” said coach Lade Akande. “And it’s the biggest sports team University High School has ever had.”
With 50 athletes on the roster this season, the size of the track and field team is impressive on its own. What’s significant, though, is how quickly the team has grown. Last year, there were 21 athletes on the team. In 2015, there were just 12 – and only one girl.
So what’s behind track and field’s popularity boom?
“Last year, we were outside a lot, practicing and making it work even though we don’t have a track,” said Akande. “Students who were here after school saw that and saw that track and field actually looks pretty fun.”
“It’s a super social sport, too, so I think there are a lot of underclassmen who came out this year with their friends,” said senior Grant Syrek, a distance runner on the team.
“And Maggie Beckman [University High School alumna and staff member] joining the team as a coach has been big,” added Akande.
In addition to Akande and Beckman, history teacher Collin Lawrence rounds out the team’s coaching staff. The three divide up responsibilities based on their strengths. Lawrence works with the distance runners. Beckman works with the sprinters. And Akande works with the hurdlers, jumpers, and throwers.
Track Team Without a Track
One big hurdle the team has had to overcome is the lack of a track. University High School does not yet have a track on its campus, but the coaching staff has found creative ways to work around that while still holding practices at school.
“We definitely make it work,” said Akande. “Sprinters use the straightaway sidewalks at school, and distance runners run in West Park. We have a high jump pit that we can set up on campus, and we lay out hurdles on the soccer field.”
“We do pretty much the same workouts that other schools do, just not on a track,” added senior Jordan Palmer, a sprinter and high jumper.
Still, when it came time for the team’s first meet on an actual track, there was a learning curve.
“At our first meet [at Indiana School for the Deaf], we had to teach runners how to stay in their lanes during their events, said Palmer. “We’ve joked about drawing lanes on the sidewalks at school to practice that.”
A Numbers Game
The athletes seem to have gotten the hang of things, though, as the coaches are beyond impressed by the team’s performance so far this year. In some ways, track and field is a numbers game. Athletes can only participate in four events per meet, and schools can only enter a certain number of athletes in each event (this varies by meet). So having a bigger team has helped the Trailblazers compete – and place – in more events than ever before.
“Events usually place up to eight places, so we’ve had meets this year where we’ve had athletes place in the middle or bottom of that,” said Akande. “But at our Shortridge meet, in particular, we took home the most blue ribbons out of all the teams.”
“It feels, relative to last year, like our team is very serious,” added senior Max Ammerman, a distance runner. “We were very serious last year, but it feels like we have a better chance of competing now. We can actually get points.”
And get points they have. Several athletes have also set school records.
- Freshman Jada Swearingen set a school record of 13:23 in the 3200 meter run.
- Senior Emma Caress set a school record of 6:03 in the 1600 meter run.
- The girls 400 meter relay team of freshman Tessa Hudson, sophomore Hallie Harrison, senior Jordan Palmer, and senior Kelsey Miller set a school record of 55.7 seconds.
- Two high jumpers – Palmer and junior Josh Watson — set school records of 4’8” and 5’10” respectively.
- The girls 3200 meter relay team set a school record too – as it was the first time University High School has ever fielded a team for this event.
Laying the Foundation
With just three meets remaining in the season – the next meet is the Pioneer Academic-Athletic Conference meet on Saturday, May 6 at Ball State University – the team is focusing most on cultivating the younger talent, building camaraderie, and setting new personal records.
“We’re looking right now to take these really talented freshmen and underclassmen and lay this foundation for a really solid athlete,” said Ammerman. “And we’re trying to be role models.”
“There’s no attachment to winning or losing on this team; it’s doing your best and trying new things that’s encouraged and rewarded most,” said Akande. “We think this happens when you have all of your teammates cheering for you.”
“While it’s a team sport, track and field is also an individual sport,” added Syrek. “You’re trying to beat yourself and top your own times. To look back on your times and see improvement – that’s the goal.”
Girls track and field sectionals are Tuesday, May 16 at Guerin Catholic High School, and boys track and field sectionals are Thursday, May 18 at Carmel High School.